Earlier this year, prominent businesswomen Jillian Segal and Lucy Turnbull led the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce’s (AICC) inaugural all-women mission to Israel.

Following the mission, AICC Chair, Jillian Segal and three women who attended, Jill Nes, Fiona Balfour, and Dr Jane Wilson, came together in Sydney for a debrief discussion facilitated by entrepreneur Gemma Manning from Manning & Co and Gemstar Technology. In anticipation of next year’s mission, The CEO Magazine joined these Australian business leaders to hear their thoughts about what they saw, what they learned, and what they loved on their journey to Israel.

Encouraging women in leadership

The mission proved an invaluable opportunity for 39 women of a variety of ages and differing levels of business experience to spend time together, developing relationships that will continue to support one another as they impact the future business environment and strive for global success.

Jillian said, “I thought it would be an interesting opportunity to bring a group of senior women together because most of the missions I’d experienced previously had been dominated by men. I’ve always felt the women have had an unequal ability to participate in the question and answer sessions and in the dynamics of the mission. So, I thought it would be interesting to have a group of women only.

Israel: a start-up nation with an appetite for risk

The women who embarked on the AICC’s mission were treated to a first-hand look at how Israel has reinvented itself as a start-up nation, learning more about its booming culture of innovation while taking in Israel’s rich heritage and culture.

“It’s a country where there are almost a million potential billionaires. Everyone’s about to go ahead with their dream to make a success of their project. They are very ambitious and enthusiastic people,” said Jill Nes, CEO of BMF Asset Management.

Each of the four women at the round table discussion was excited by the support provided to the start-up ecosystem in Israel and what it could mean for the way the world lives and does business in the future. It was apparent the youth in Israel are exceptionally keen, with an appetite for risk, however, Jill is concerned young Australian entrepreneurs aren’t given the same freedom.

“When we are telling young people to get out there and give it a go and learn from failure, it’s possible the laws around director’s responsibilities need to change. Here, if you fail and you’re a director and your company fails and becomes insolvent, there are all sorts of repercussions. Whereas, in Israel, it’s not that onerous,” she said.

Fiona Balfour, a non-executive director with an executive background in information technology, added that, “An unspoken policy of ‘Israel first’ means resources aren’t wasted. I think that underlying policy direction and consistency of policy over a long period has made Israel’s start-up ecosystem a so called ‘overnight success’.”

Where global experts and leaders collide

“We had the most amazingly privileged trip,” Fiona said, impressed that the AICC was able to open so many doors.

“We weren’t just introduced to leaders in the country, they were the sovereign leaders if you like — the deputy governor of the Reserve Bank, the Mayor of Jerusalem, leading academics from the major academic institutions. The access was profound.”

Meeting Israel’s most influential people in business and technology sparked the imaginations of the participants: successful business women with the power to create a more fertile environment for innovation in Australia.

Dr Jane Wilson, Acting Chancellor of the University of Queensland, oversees some of the world’s leading research institutions, turning biomedical research into new products, new jobs, and strong economies. Jane was fascinated by the success Israel has had in translating research into outcomes and how the rest of the world is showing interest.

“One thing that struck me on our visit to Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology — which was absolutely fascinating — was the mention of China and how they’d seen massive delegations coming into Israel from China. They showed us the visitor ramp up numbers and it was really incredible because we’ve seen the same thing happening in the university sector. The research dollars that are going into research institutions in China is phenomenal. Making sure we have global collaboration in research activity is really important. The start-up ecosystem in China is also really vibrant,” said Jane.

Celebrating the Australian success story

As well as learning from Israel’s example, the Australian women on the mission found a wealth of untapped knowledge and experience amongst themselves.

Jill said, “I learnt so much from Dr Jane Wilson and the others who were with us on the trip about what we’re achieving in research and development at our universities. And that there is funding available for our start-ups. We need to celebrate what we’ve done and our successes. We should be going out there telling our own story.”