Abraham Accords, Trump and China’s Belt and Road Initiative

The Abraham Accords is widely seen solely through the prism of the Arab-Israeli conflict with once hostile sides coming together to herald a new peaceful era for the region. While the peace agreement between Israel and the two Gulf nations, UAE and Bahrain, is a major step towards wider normalization between Israel and the Arab world, and a show of strength against Iranian expansionism and aggression, it can also be seen as a strategic masterstroke by the Trump administration to counter China’s aspirations to exert Beijing’s power in the Middle East and beyond.

Indeed, with Abraham Accords, when zoomed out of the Arab-Israeli conflict, a different picture emerges. Continue reading “Abraham Accords, Trump and China’s Belt and Road Initiative”

What Isaiah Berlin can teach Israel’s political leadership

El nacionalismo según Berlin | Letras Libres
Image source: Letras Libras

Isaiah Berlin, a Latvian-born British social and political theorist, was one of the foremost thinkers of the modern era and a leading proponent of liberal thought. Many of Berlin’s essays discuss liberty and the uneasy relationship between the individual and the State.

While it has been nearly 24 years since Berlin’s death, his thoughts carry great weight and can be applied to current events, especially now that Covid-driven authoritarianism is on the rise among liberal democracies.

Continue reading “What Isaiah Berlin can teach Israel’s political leadership”

Thinking clearly about Amazon, Bezos and the era of tech overlords


With the purchase of Whole Foods, Jeff Bezos is replacing the government as a dystopian overlord. This sentiment seems to be widely shared by many writers and analysts as Bezos and his fellow travelers among the Silicon Valley tech constellation have pushed pundits and op-ed writers to move from analysis to pure, unadulterated hysteria.

The following looks at two articles published on reputable news sites to illustrate the ongoing and growing hysteria over prolific tech entrepreneurs and the companies they steer.

Continue reading “Thinking clearly about Amazon, Bezos and the era of tech overlords”

Obsession with social issues has contaminated tech journalism

A few months ago I visited Nokia’s factory in Oulu, a city situated in northern Finland,100 miles from the arctic circle. I was joined by a dozen tech journalists from publications of varied sizes to learn about Nokia’s plans to develop a commercial 5G network.

When launched, 5G will drastically increase the speed at which data is transferred. During the tour we met Nokia engineers who, expecting a number of questions about the intricacies and applications of the future network, were asked only one question by a group of supposedly hungry journos looking to tell the tale of this cutting edge technology: what is your gender policy? Continue reading “Obsession with social issues has contaminated tech journalism”

Why Peter Thiel supports Donald Trump

PayPal founder and a Silicon Valley iconoclast gave a rousing speech at the RNC convention in support of Donald Trump.

Thiel is a measured thinker, calculative and reserved. Trump is impulsive and the type introverted Thiel probably encountered in high school: brash and aggressive. It’s unlikely the two would have been friends.

It is, however, not unusual for two individuals who are polar opposites to form a political alliance in the face of a common enemy. But Thiel is a puritan libertarian whereas Trump is a protectionist who wants “good deals”; in essence opposing the invisible hand of laissez faire capitalism. Trump wants to control the outcome whereas Thiel wants to maximize liberty and free capitalism from constraints holding it back.

So why is a Peter Thiel, different in temperament and political philosophy supporting Donald Trump? Continue reading “Why Peter Thiel supports Donald Trump”

What are the reasons behind Finland’s booming startup ecosystem?

Following my recent Q&A with Timo Ahopelto he decided to ask his Facebook followers what they think are the reasons behind the blossoming Finnish startup ecosystem.  The answers were many and reflected the passion – and of course, consensus – among the relatively small group of “founding fathers”.

The cream of the crop of the Finnish startup ecosystem took a break from their busy schedules (or vacationing) to offer their two cents to Timo’s question. Continue reading “What are the reasons behind Finland’s booming startup ecosystem?”

Q&A with Timo Ahopelto from Lifeline Ventures

Timo Ahopelto is the founder of Helsinki-based Lifeline Ventures, an early stage VC that has invested in companies like Supercell, Applifier (now Unity3D) and Enevo. In March, the firm launched a new 57 million euro ($63 million) fund to invest in startups. I posed Timo a few question about he current state of the Finnish startup scene.

1. According to FVCA’s report, Finnish companies received over 1 billion euros of VC/PE investments in 2015. What does this tell you?

Finland is on track to a very good start. Israel raised $ 3.5 billion in 2015 into 1,200-1,500 tech companies, which probably is what a national ecosystem in a smallish country can create. Finland will be there in five years’ time. The growth path from here onwards is very clear.

2. Why does Finland attract early stage investments?

Fundamentally and simply: Finland is producing high quality tech startups. This is the result of what I call “Finland’s entrepreneurial renaissance”. It started in 2009, when Aalto University Entrepreneurship Society was founded. This student-led movement gathered the ecosystem together and drives projects like the Slush conference.

3. Which industries do you see emerging from Finland in the next few years?

My strongest bet is AR/VR. We have the requires components in the ecosystem for both software and hardware: consumer electronics devices based on the Nokia history, content by the games ecosystem, computer graphics dating back the Finnish teams dominating the demo scene in the 1980’s, big data, and artificial intelligence with the very specific machine vision twist.

4. As an investor, how do you find companies? Or do they find you?

We mostly invest in companies whose founders we know or who we have a strong link to already. It is difficult to say who finds who. Finland is a very connected startup ecosystem where one knows what is going around.

5. Looking at developments in Europe and the crackdown on companies like Uber and Airbnb – how do you see the future of these two companies in Finland?

Airbnb is easy. It is fully legal in Finland, and difficult to see how and why individual cities or the state would want to ban the service. Airbnb will grow and flourish.

Uber is more difficult. The first case against an Uber driver is now in the higher court, and tens of similar court cases are being considered. I don’t have a crystal ball to forecast how this will turn out.

Personally, I think that we need to have a broader tech strategy as a country. The government needs to develop a deep-rooted understanding of how global tech will fundamentally change small country’s role as an economic and political actor. Once there is this understanding, we can develop our strategy and take stance on things like Uber and Airbnb.

6. Do you think Finns have recovered from the demise of Nokia as a growth engine?

Mentally yes, but economically it will take another three to five years to develop the growth company ecosystem to the level that it compensates the loss.

7. Do you believe that Nokia can make a comeback? (considering news about the company returning to smartphones)

Yes, but not necessarily in the mature and even somewhat declining smartphone market. The playing field is entirely open in AR/VR and connected health, where Nokia has launched new products and made acquisitions.

8. What should the Finnish government do better in order to foster growth?

Take down regulations and artificial growth barriers. The dialogue with the startup ecosystem is already active and on a very good level. Everyone in Finland wants to make this work now.

Uber’s troubles in Europe aren’t going away

The car-hailing app Uber has been expanding rapidly across the globe since its launch in San Fransisco in 2011. To date Uber has raised 12.5 billion at an implied valuation of $66 billion.

Much like companies like Airbnb, born out of the sharing economy and cheered on by the urban masses, Uber has faced difficulties winning over the hearts and minds of European bureaucrats.

What many US based companies forget when expanding to Europe is the impenetrable and pervasive mindset of keeping things as they are. In essence this means the following: technology is great as long as it doesn’t threaten the public sector. As we know, the public sector and its unions are the guardians of the hotel industry (threatened by Airbnb) and taxi services (government monopoly with taxi drivers as the holy untouchables). Continue reading “Uber’s troubles in Europe aren’t going away”