How Israel builds its hi-tech start-ups

                            People who learn fast are key to building cybersecurity start-ups, says Nadav Zafrir


Israel’s focus on national security has helped it build a vibrant cluster of cybersecurity businesses. Can other nations copy it?

Many of the new companies in Israel are founded by individuals who have come out of Unit 8200 – Israel’s equivalent of Britain’s GCHQ or America’s NSA – a “signals intelligence” agency which has moved heavily into cyber-operations.

So how does 8200 feed into the private sector? One man who knows is Nadav Zafrir. He joined 8200 in 2005 and ran the organisation between 2009 and 2013. He is now co-founder and chief executive of Team 8, a company-building platform based around cybersecurity which aims to found and establish five companies in five years.

Innovation and tech had a strong role in Israel even in the pre-cyber age but Mr Zafrir argues the key to recent success has been identifying talent young.

Israel has mandatory national service which means that 8200 has access to people when they are still at school. It starts trying to spot potential among 18-year-olds who could join its ranks. The key attribute they are looking for is not necessarily an existing skill-set but the ability to learn quickly.

The speed of evolution in technology means being able to predict who can learn fast is vital when recruiting people.

“Sometimes when you are screening them, you don’t even know what kind of technology or problems they are going to be dealing with by the time they actually sit there and have the responsibility upon their shoulders,” Mr Zafrir explained in an interview in London.

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