How Israel’s tech sector keeps humming with 86,000 reservists called up

Double shifts and contingency plans are kicking into gear as many key tech players get called to southern Israel to fight in Gaza.

JERUSALEM — When the air raid sirens went off at Tel Aviv’s Hagana train station last week, venture capitalist Ben Wiener found himself standing shoulder to shoulder in the bomb shelter with the founder of one his portfolio companies.

The man was wearing his army uniform and was so tired he didn’t notice Mr. Wiener, even though they had planned to visit a potential investor together that morning. In between the booms of Iron Dome intercepting incoming rockets from Gaza some 50 miles away, he explained he’d been doing reserve duty with an elite intelligence unit at night and sleeping only a few hours on the floor of the bunker before heading to work meetings.

After waiting a few minutes for any rocket debris to fall, the two exited the shelter and boarded a train for Herzilya to meet with the venture capital fund. The investors offered the company its next round of funding on the spot; the founder went back to his bunker and Wiener went back to Jerusalem.

“Just another day in the world of Israeli venture capital,” jokes Wiener, who didn’t disclose details of the deal because it’s not yet public. “Running a start-up is a battle in and of itself, and now we have to manage another battle on top of that.”

Today the Israeli government announced that 16,000 more reservists would be called up as Operation Protective Edge chugs through its fourth week, bringing the total number to 86,000.

Such large call-ups shock the Israeli economy, and pose a particular challenge to start-ups, which are often led by former elite soldiers. But investors, entrepreneurs, and economists alike say the resilience and resourcefulness that has helped to make this the No. 2 tech ecosystem in the world keeps business humming.