Skinner experiences missile attacks and entrepreneurs during event in the world’s second hotest start-up city

The entrepreneurial landscape is always challenging, but Knoxville public relations executive Lisa Hood Skinner certainly did not expect the Hamas missile attacks that occurred during a business event she coordinated in Tel Aviv, one of the world’s top entrepreneurial cities.

Skinner is Senior Vice President of Ackermann PR, where she handles the firm’s largest international clients. The South Knoxville native joined Ackermann in 2000 after a career where she and her husband – retired U.S. Navy LCDR Steve Skinner – worked a variety of overseas assignments, including several in the Pacific Rim.

During a recent interview with teknovation.biz, Skinner connected the dots – her international experience and her more recent responsibilities at Ackermann, including the client that brought her to the Israeli city.

“I took a succession of jobs working for innovative and entrepreneurial companies during Steve’s Navy service,” Skinner said. One of those enterprises was Foremost Foods, a Dutch company with a large presence on the Mariana Islands. Skinner was head of marketing.

She explained that Guam and Saipan have “no real agricultural production,” so instead of using cow’s milk, the company imported powder to mix with well water to produce dairy products.

“We can do more,” Skinner recalls her boss saying in relation to products beyond the company’s then 177 offerings. One example that he saw was bottled water which was always in short supply after typhoons. He secured a reverse osmosis unit, drew on the island’s well water, and the two of them introduced Foremost bottled water to the island residents.

Experiences with entrepreneurially-minded leaders like the Foremost Foods executive convinced Skinner that she wanted to get involved in entrepreneurship some time in her life. The opportunity came after she joined Ackermann and responsibility for an international client opened.

“I told Cathy that I wanted to take on the assignment,” Skinner said of her boss, friend and mentor.

The group is a consortium of attorneys from 20 countries who specialize in information technology, intellectual property, data protection and patents. The members meet twice a year to share ideas and explore areas like best practices in technology law.

Skinner coordinates their activities. In 2010, the consortium began discussing a visit to Tel Aviv, a city recently ranked number two on the Start-up Genome list, just behind Silicon Valley.

“It’s the first time we’d jumped head-on into a program on start-ups,” Skinner explained. Little did they expect that their visit would be timed to coincide with heightened Middle East tensions and the missile attacks Hamas launched.

Skinner, who says she’s experienced seven typhoons, detailed the group’s safety experiences in a story she wrote for the (Knoxville) News Sentinel that can be found at http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2012/nov/23/knoxvillian-witnessed-harrowing-israel-conflict/.  An interview with WBIR-TV can be found at http://www.wbir.com/video/1993312187001/1/newsmaker-lisa-skinner?fb_action.

In spite of the challenges the group incurred, it is clear that Skinner viewed the visit to Tel Aviv-Yafo (Tel Aviv Start-up City) as a tremendous educational success for the Ackermann client, but a personal experience that she passionately wants to share now that she has returned to Knoxville.

“They have all these funky little spaces where they foster all of these ideas,” she said of the Rothschild Boulevard neighborhood with its trendy cafes and top notch restaurants. “They are trying to foster 1,200 start-ups.”

Skinner said that Tel Aviv has dramatically changed its demographics in the past 15 years as it strives to be an entrepreneurial hot spot. The number of citizens between the ages of 18 and 35 has more than doubled and now comprises one-third of the city’s population.

“They (the entrepreneurs) have so much passion,” Skinner said. “They go for broke.”

She cited comparisons, albeit on a smaller scale, between “The Library,” Tel Aviv’s co-working space for start-ups, and recently announced plans for an entrepreneurial “one-stop shop” on Market Square in downtown Knoxville.

“Tel Aviv is cultivating and deepening the international nature of its ecosystem to be more attractive to international investors,” Skinner said about another major emphasis.

For a person who said she wanted to be involved in entrepreneurship at some point in her career, Skinner has now seen firsthand one of the world’s top cities for start-ups. It is a unique experience and a base of knowledge that could help drive this region’s entrepreneurial endeavors.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: More information about the Tel Aviv entrepreneurial activities can be found at http://www.tel-aviv.gov.il/eng/Pages/HomePage.aspx  and www.thelibrary.co.il.)

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