Ben Lang Is "Somewhere In The Desert," Mapping The "Startup Nation"

An 18-year-old member of the Israeli Defense Forces wants to show the extreme density of startups in his country.

Ben Lang is the creator of Mapped in Israel, which shows the location of startups in Israel. To judge from Lang’s map, there is an astounding density of startups in Tel Aviv, and the coastal city of Haifa in particular. The 18-year-old aspiring entrepreneur is currently serving in the Israeli Defense Forces, and pursues programming projects in his spare time. We spoke with Lang, who was stationed “somewhere in the desert,” for a chat about what has been termed the “startup nation.”

FAST COMPANY: What does Mapped in Israel reveal?

BEN LANG: Many people may have no idea so many startups are condensed there. You may have heard Israel is the “startup nation,” but you don’t see how insanely condensed the startups are. Essentially it’s just to help people visualize what the startup nation looks like.

I hadn’t heard Israel called the “startup nation” before.

It’s a book written by Saul Singer and Dan Senor. It’s one of my favorite books. They try to explain this phenomenon, why there are more startups from Israel on the NASDAQ than I think India and China combined. They say that the army, with its technological units, and people becoming mature really fast, all contribute to making this super-motivated community of people who want to change the world through startups.

Laypeople seeing the map may be surprised to see the density of startups in Tel Aviv, say--but were people in the startup community there surprised, as well?

Yeah. No one really made a map and saw how dense it was before. There might be 40-50 startups within two blocks of each other in Tel Aviv.

Do you know of any real-world connections that have been made because of the map--startups seeing they’re close to one another and deciding to get together?

It’s still fairly new. But I do have friends who moved recently into a new apartment, and the first thing they did was check to see what startups were around them so they could go visit them.

It seems like the site is a boon for someone who’s really lazy about commuting, and wants to walk to work.

Yeah, that’s why I added the "Hiring" page, so people can easily apply to startups nearby.

You grew up mostly in the U.S., but decided to become an Israeli citizen and join the Israeli Defense Forces instead of going to college. To what extent did your Zionism motivate you and to what extent did you think the army would just be better training for founding a startup?

It was definitely a combination of the two. I’m also a big Zionist, but I realized there are lots of things I have to learn before building a startup, and I wanted to build those skills. So it’s probably a combination, 50-50.

Why is it that I can’t think of Israel’s blockbuster startup, in the way that Sweden has Skype?

Have you heard of ICQ? AOL bought it for a lot of money, and that’s what became AIM. But startups here are focused differently. There are not many social networks coming out of Israel. There’s a lot of mobile startups that are starting to succeed, but it’s hard to do marketing from Israel to the rest of the world. But there are lots of startups that have succeeded in security, medical, and semiconductor chips. There are lots of popular mobile startups in Israel that are getting millions of users, like Any.DO, Onavo, or Fooducate.

This interview has been condensed and edited. For more from the Fast Talk interview series, click here. Know someone who'd be a good Fast Talk subject? Mention it to David Zax.

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