[By Zach Cutler, CEO of the Cutler Group. Crossposted from the HuffPost.]
It's no secret that Israel has become one of the world's most important technology epicenters. While the tiny Middle Eastern country was best known in the 90's as a robust producer of hardware (semi conductors, chips and the likes) - and then became known for software (particularly for the enterprise) around the dot com boom - the Israeli tech scene today is blossoming and foraying into many new, exciting niches.
According to Chemi Peres, one of Israel's leading venture capitalists, there is tremendous advancement on the horizon for Israel's startup community. Peres, in a phone conversation last month, told me that because the young country is still on a learning curve and the venture market in Israel has existed for only two decades, the floodgates are just beginning to open in terms of what is possible.
While there are certainly challenges facing Israeli tech entrepreneurs - including the fact that the local market is weak due to a lack of free trade with hostile neighboring countries - Peres is very optimistic.
He says that Israel is making a tremendous transition from becoming just a "startup nation" (there are nearly thousands of startups in the country, the highest per capita ratio in the world) to also being a "category leader nation." In other words, Israel is shifting from an exclusively exit-focused mindset to one in which entrepreneurs attempt to build and sustain industry-leading companies for the long haul.
In terms of which industries, Peres says advertising tech, big data, media, cyber security, enterprise software, communication infrastructure and health tech are all on the rise. Particularly hot niches experiencing exponential growth are: mobile, consumer web and business-to-business-to-consumer software.
One particular mobile startup, DudaMobile, launched in 2010 in order to help SMBs convert their websites into mobile friendly sites cheaply and easily.
The platform, which can convert a site in just a few minutes, has already landed 3.5 million users and has raised a collective $8.3 million in venture capital.
"There needed to be a tool to help small and medium businesses create great mobile websites," says co-founder and CEO Itai Sadan. "Our service helps them create a mobile web presence and drive business."
DudaMobile has landed partnerships with Go Daddy, Google and AT&T, and has over 50 employees working in Palo Alto and Tel Aviv.
Sadan says that like many Israeli startups, his company's bi-continental presence works well. R&D is in Israel, where there is a strong network of engineers (another benefit, he said, about having engineers in Israel is that you do not have to worry as much about them being poached by giants like Google, Facebook or Twitter). Management is in the U.S. - which is where the user base primarily resides.
Sadan is excited about the future of DudaMobile and the Israeli tech scene at large. He says there is something in the Israeli mindset that cultivates entrepreneurship and a desire to create solutions and break through barriers.
Language barriers, one of the great challenges facing our global economy, inspired entrepreneur Yael Karov to form Ginger Software in 2008 to help native and non-native English speakers improve their English writing skills over time by using contextual grammar and spelling corrections.
Incorporating a series of sophisticated patented algorithms, Ginger's writing assistant/proofreading tool - which is offered directly to consumers - now helps over one million users (mostly immigrants in the U.S.) strengthen their writing skills.
The startup has raised $20 million in funding and has 40 employees based in Tel Aviv. Recently, the company released a personal assistant tool that incorporates speech recognition (somewhat like Siri) - a B-to-B-to-C offering being sold to mobile and web apps in order to offer their end-users a more enjoyable experience.
Karov, in a phone interview, says Ginger will have two exciting product launches in the coming months, including an app that will help people linguistically express themselves in new, alternative ways.
When asked what's hot in the Israeli tech scene, Karov said there are many "algorithmic" startups that tackle complex issues.
"Something in the Israeli culture is very suited toward startups. Israelis know how to confront crises and are tailored to solving them," she says. "Once everyone started opening startups, it became exponential and people started asking themselves 'why not open a startup?'"
That thought certainly entered the minds of Idan Cohen, Avner Ronen and Tom Sella, who co-founded Boxee in 2007.
Boxee is revolutionizing the way individuals consume television by combining free channels with a no-limits cloud DVR system and integrated web apps such as Netflix. In other words: a mix of live channels and on-demand content. Think Slingbox meets TiVo meets Apple TV, all in one device.
The turbo-charged product known as Boxee TV, which is available for $99 in thousands of Walmart stores, is dramatically increasing access and flexibility to television, and is overlaying social data so friends can interactively share and comment on what they are watching.
The company, which has raised over $25 million in venture capital, has almost 50 employees in its New York and Tel Aviv offices. Management is located in the U.S. while R&D is in Israel - due to the country's stellar engineering talent.
Israel, as a young immigrant country, offers youth cutting-edge knowledge learned in the army and at great universities, he says. "Israelis simply don't take no for an answer and seek to make situations better. Israelis are problem solvers and always look for a path to solve a problem," he adds.
Whether creating fun consumer technologies, advanced enterprise software or biotech breakthroughs, Israelis are certainly proving - startup by startup - that they are able and willing to solve some of the world's greatest issues.
In the famed words of the country's founder, David Ben-Gurion: "In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles."
Disclaimer: None of the above-mentioned companies or individuals are now clients of the writer's PR agency