Interview with Prof. Sivan: "0 to 1 to 100" The Magic of Israel-China Venture Relations

Chinese University Business School

By Fang Ying, Senior Writer, China Business Knowledge @ CUHK

Israel has always been dubbed the “Startup Nation”. With 140 scientists, technicians, and engineers per 10,000 employees, it boasts the highest number of scientists and technology professionals per capita in the world. More than 250 multinational corporations, including Google, Apple, and Microsoft, have R&D or innovation centers in the country.

What are the secrets behind Israel’s miracle? How is the startup environment there different from that of China? Are there any opportunities for the two countries to work and benefit each other?

Prof. Yesha Y. Sivan, Tel-Aviv based visiting professor of innovation and venture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School, shares his insights with China Business Knowledge (CBK) @ CUHK.

CBK: As an Israeli, what do you think are the secrets behind the success of Israel?

Prof. Sivan: The Israeli venture ecosystem (venture is defined as the combination of innovation and finance) is unique, which I believe is one of the most advanced and flexible ecosystems in the world. In recent years, Israel has become the Mecca for entrepreneurs, venture capitals, multinational companies and experienced professionals. It is efficient, particularly in terms of digitalization, information systems, cyber technology and artificial intelligence.

The development of Israel’s venture ecosystem started with Israeli government’s heavy national defense investments combined with Israeli people’s creativeness. It continued with Yozma (Hebrew for “initiative”), an Israeli government initiative in 1993, which offered attractive tax incentives to foreign venture capital investments in Israel and doubled any investment with funds from the government. These Yozma funds commercialized the defense ideas to successful firms which went global later through IPOs or M&As, which, in turn, continued the upward cycle with more venture capitals, experienced managers, and super-angles.

Today, in my mind, the biggest advantage of Israeli venture ecosystem is the presence of multinational companies. There are already 250 multinational companies which have set up their R&D centers in Israel. They are top players in the global economy, including IBM, Intel, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Huawei. I believe many of these big names have already realized how beneficial a presence in Israel can be. It is often said that if an engineer from Microsoft wants to talk to an engineer from Google, they better to do it in Hebrew, in Israel.

At the same time, the fact that the Israeli startups can learn from these big players is a wonderful plus for them. In recent years, we have seen some local companies that started from Israel to become unicorns in some industries around the world, for example, Checkpoint, Wix, and Mobile Eye (recently merged to Intel for $13 billion USD).

CBK: Based on your observation, when it comes to innovation, what are the differences between China and Israel?

Prof. Sivan: China (1.3 billion people) is obviously different from Israel (8 million people) — China’s scale is much bigger than that of Israel. In simplest terms, I would say that Israel focuses on “zero to one (0–>1)”, while China focuses on “one to one hundred (1–>100)”. This is also the source of mutual fascination.

Israel is good at creating something from nothing; Israelis are used to offering new solutions for new problems. Think about ICQ, which is the “father” of QQ and the “grandfather” of WeChat. There was almost nothing at first, and then suddenly there is something. That’s what Israel has been doing in the last 70 years since 1948. Israelis seldom pay attention to the local market – they are always targeting global markets. They were born global.

In contrast, China is good at scaling up from one to one hundred. The market is vast in China, and so they need to come up with scalable solutions. They can easily achieve success by only focusing on the local market (which can be a honey trap – as some Chinese firms are globally impaired).

And that’s the basis for the two countries to cooperate. In fact, many deals are happening now: Chinese companies are going to Israel to find the idea or technology (from zero to one) whereas Israeli companies are going to China to scale their markets (from one to one hundred). Lumenis is one such example – it’s a globally based Israeli medical technology firm which has been bought by a Chinese PE firm in search of expansion.

CBK: Most people think that Hong Kong is falling behind in the innovation/venture game. What kind of advice would you give to the Hong Kong government to boost its development?

Prof. Sivan: Hong Kong used to be a strong player in innovation and entrepreneurship. However, it failed to find its 21st direction, as compared with other cities, such as Shenzhen.

Given the high land price in the city, small companies may not be able to survive. So the Hong Kong government should take a unique positioning, for example, by bringing big innovation players to Hong Kong to further support innovation. Giants can create giants.

We don’t do innovation for the sake of innovation. What we want is to create and keep jobs in the city and improve people’s quality of living. So the Hong Kong government needs to think about how to keep companies in Hong Kong by supporting them, which is the basis for long-term development. I call this HK 3.0.

CBK: Some critics think that China’s innovation performance is relatively weak when comparing with its R&D investment. What is your view on that?

Prof. Sivan: We have different data and measurements to evaluate innovation performance. But no one can deny that there are now several new-era companies in China becoming global players, such as Tencent, Alibaba or Mobike. These companies are growing with new technologies and business models for the 21-century. They are the top players in their markets – globally. In future, I believe we are going to see more and more such china-born companies.

By analogy, China-born companies should not be satisfied with conquering just the Chinese market; they need to think more globally. The truth is even when you don’t think about going global, your competitors will be thinking about that and will take over your market eventually. So thinking globally is important to a company’s long-term development.

CBK: Nowadays changes, particular those brought by digital innovations, are everywhere. And companies in any size are facing tremendous pressures to adapt to the new environment. What would be your tips for them?  

Prof. Sivan: This is my focused area of work, and digital transformation is the theme of the main courses I am teaching here at CUHK Business School. In the digital era, suppliers, customers and shareholders are all expecting changes and should act quickly to adapt to changes. I believe there is one universal panacea to deal with external change – and that is the internal ability to change, and change often- namely being agile.

For example, in recent years, we see that physical marketplaces have transformed into digital and virtual market spaces. So companies today must understand the dynamics of such new environment and become more responsive to operate in our digital world.

When it comes to innovation, even the well-known process of disruptive innovation, which in the past could take years to disrupt any industry, has now accelerated into a matter of months, or even weeks. So companies should all learn how to transform from disruptive innovation to “killer” innovation.

Facing today’s ever-changing digital environment, I would say being agile is one of the keys to any company’s success.

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For other CBK stories see here.

22-Jan-2018 Hong Kong 6:30-8:30pm — Li Ka-shing’s made US$143 million in one deal –– Prof. Sivan 习移山 to the secrete behind this deal — digital transformation.

In October 2011, Li Ka-shing’s Horizon Ventures and KPCB (Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers) invested US$30 million in Waze, the Israeli navigation company. In June 2013, Google paid US$1.3 billion to acquire it; with an 11 per cent stake, Li Ka-shing earned an estimated US$143 million — a spectacular return in less than two years.

Join more than 50 senior managers from the Hutchinson and the likes of E&Y, CLP, Schneider, SGS, Hong Kong and China Gas, Ngong Ping 360, MTR, Toushi, Flextronics, HKBN. 


Are you driving your digital transformation? Or is it driving you? (Introductory Seminar)
Core technologies like GPS, internet, and cloud augmented by AI, machine learning, and IOT seems to excel the impact of technology on society. “Bitcoin-mania”,”fake-news”,”taxing robots”, and “basic income discussion” are some of the symptoms.
What will you do? How can we prepare ourselves to master these digital changes and not become slaves to them?
Prof Sivan will share his experience when it comes to taming the digital beast:
  •  Individually – how to master WeChat, Facebook — without being addicted
  • Organizationally – how to follow on business models that make sense for our maturity level; &
  • Nationally – about building networks of innovation


Program Date: 22 January 2018 (Monday)
6:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.: Registration
7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.: Seminar


Venue: CUHK Business School Town Centre, Unit B, 1/F, Bank of America Tower, 12 Harcourt Road, Central, Hong Kong

Sign up and discount code (since we moved to a bigger room J )

sign up

Program Fee: HK$300; use “yesha50” for a discount.

Remark: For group special rate, please contact our education professionals at (852) 3943-8774 or for details.

19-Jan-2018, HK: CUHK EMBA Sample Class

CUHK EMBA Sample Class by Prof. Yesha Sivan 

If you are interested in an EMBA based in HK with a spin on Digital Glocalization meet me

Fri, Jan 19th 7:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m, CUHK Downtown center.

Sign up

Topic: “Your Career in the Age of Digital Glocalization”
Career Dynamics is a critical domain for aspiring senior executives, both as a tool for themselves as well as a tool to manage and lead others. In this session, we will review two of the main forces that affect careers:

  • Glocalization – the ability to connect two or more cultures and balance the forces for the global with the local
  • Digital – how digital is changing the way we conduct business on every level
CUHK EMBA Program is the first EMBA program in Hong Kong and remains a truly made-in-Hong Kong product.

We aim to maintain our ability to nurture top-notch management talents to meet the needs of Hong Kong, the mainland, and the world. Join us for our Sample Class cum Information Session to learn more!

Prof. Andrew Chan and Prof. Yesha Sivan will give you a blank board to design your own future

Welcome 2018, and your actions with "Innovating innovating…" with Yesha

As part of wishing us all healthy, productive and creative 2018 let me share with you the latest on “Innovating innovating…” and Yesha (as well as direct optional action items).

When I reflect on what drives me as well as what drives the world (perhaps what “should drive”), I can definitely say “innovation.” Innovation is more than just creativity or ideas; it is the realization of these ideas into solutions that create value.

So why the two words – Innovating innovating? It is because “innovation” itself is changing. Innovation is being innovated. It needs to be innovated.

What has been innovation for the 20th century is evolving. We need new kinds of innovation, new ways to fund innovation, new platforms for innovation, new government policies, and more.

In this context, my work revolves around the various challenges of Innovating innovating…
in my main two fronts

  • Academically:
    • In my work out of Hong Kong, where I’m a visiting professor of Innovation and Venture at the Chinese University Business school, I’m looking at the leadership of innovation as well as working with the local HK/China venture ecosystem. See especially my executive courses on Digital Transformation in item 2 next. 
  • Commercially, under (this is my consolidated brand):
EVEonline JVWR 10(3) 2017
JVWR Issue 10(3) on EVE Online

14-Nov-2017: Prof. Sivan to speak at Hong Kong Management Association annual conference

Business Transformation in an Era of Innovation and Disruption – is this year’s theme of HKMA annual conference.

Prof. Yesha Sivan participates and will give a lecture on Mastering Digital Transformations. In the fast-changing innovation of technology and business, HKMA assembled a group of thought leaders and practitioners to share their success stories.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017
9:20 am – 5:30 pm (registration starts from 8:30 am)

The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
1 Expo Drive Wanchai HONG KONG

By invitation only. For registration check HKMA website here.

Today, social media has become the mainstream in reaching your customers. A tremendous amount of customer and product information must be gathered from multiple diverse sources. The mobile platform has also surpassed the traditional media in providing the innovative high touch and customized solutions for new and existing customers. Indeed, we have reached multiple inflection points in serving customers, the use of technology innovation and globalization.

Recognizing the changing business environment and its importance in maintaining and growing your business, HKMA has adopted the theme ‘Business Transformation in an Era of Innovation and Disruption’ in our 2017 Annual Conference. The goals are to help senior executives in the understanding of pertinent innovative ideas, and in the exploration and adoption of these tools and techniques in your business and organization.