The Secret Unit Behind Israel's Startup Nation Success
The Mamram unit has produced some of the world's finest programmers and software engineers -- and helped establish Israel's reputation as a startup powerhouse.
The Mamram unit is close to my heart. It has produced some of the world’s finest programmers and software engineers, who've worked not only in Israel but also around the world. From a personal point of view, I was profoundly grateful to be selected to serve with the unit. This is not a topic I would ordinarily choose to write about, but after having been given special permission from those involved, I intend to publish a series of articles about the unit and its role at the heart of Israel’s thriving tech and startup economy.
In recent decades, the state of Israel has positioned itself as a “startup nation” that's produced successful companies including CyberArk, Taboola and Checkmarx, among others. The special DNA of Israel’s high-tech industry is derived from the technological units of the IDF, including one in particular — the Mamram unit.
The unit, known as the Data Center and Computer Systems or "Mamram," its Hebrew acronym, was founded in 1959. Prior to that the first unit in the Israeli defense complex to develop and use computers was RAFAEL (the Hebrew abbreviation of Armament Development Authority). In 1959, a joint committee of RAFAEL and the IDF inquired into the data processing needs of the Israeli security forces and advised the government to buy a digital mainframe computer in the U.S. So, Mamram was created, the IDF bought a Philco Computer in the U.S. and its first programmer was enlisted.
Over the years, the unit has grown to a cluster of units in charge of a wide array of technological efforts in the IDF, from software to hardware and infrastructure.
The military service of a software engineer in Mamram includes an intensive six-month course that readies the engineer to spend five-and-a-half more years in service in the field. During that time they deal with problems at the edge of the technological front in the IDF. The high demands of such a service rest on the shoulders of 18- to 24-year-old soldiers who grow to become responsible and highly effective innovators and leaders.
A new role for the alumni
Upon discharge from the IDF, Mamram alumni are flung into the eco bubble that is the Israeli tech industry, and they're equipped with skills and experience in some of the most advanced and best-funded technologies. These skills cannot be learned at any university. With those skills, the alumni can seamlessly blend into big institutions such as banks and government bodies as well as small startups and growing companies.
The Mamram Alumni Association provides a strong network of experienced leaders for recent alumni to turn to for advice from day one. Together with Israeli-founded Quedma Innovation, the Mamram Alumni Association recently created a unique program designed to help accelerate Mamram alumni CTOs and co-founders in their careers. As part of the program, Mamram alums from 15 promising entrepreneurial ventures will undergo an intensive five-month course. The course is designed to deliver knowledge and expertise from experienced alumni and help create a strong network of like-minded and ambitious people.
According to Yossi Melamed, head of the association, “We've decided to help the CTOs of these companies specifically, as most of our alumni reach this position, and this position is very important in the first stages of any entrepreneurial project. The CTO in these cases is in charge of connecting vital business needs with marketing and R&D needs, and with that, allow for the project to grow and prosper. Over these five months of training, we will follow these CTOs closely and provide them with the best tools for the job.”
Mamram as public good
Although the Mamram unit provides a route for its graduates to enter and find success within the private sector, it must be remembered that the unit was not designed with that goal in mind. It was created to satisfy perceived needs within the IDF. Despite this, it is entirely possible to suggest that a state-created defense entity has contributed to the social good of the Israeli — and global — software industry.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor