I’m in Israel for the Microsoft Think Next conference and I had no idea what to expect before I got here. I’ve been in Tel Aviv for little over 24 hours now and I have to say that I’m impressed by the city itself and the startup passion and culture that’s happening here. (Disclosure: Microsoft paid for my trip with no expectation of anything in return. Glad that’s out of the way.)

So what was I expecting exactly? Given that my last trip out of the country was to Mexico City, and that’s an ecosystem that is still trying very hard to find its identity, I expected some of the same. However, Israel already has an identity and an ecosystem of friendly and helpful developers.

There are a few reasons why you don’t hear about Israel much when it comes to technology, one being that its main strengths aren’t close to consumers at all. The other reason is that the startups here are simply too busy working to promote themselves. Microsoft Israel has stepped in to assist with the second part, offering up its research and development arm in Israel to help startups with networking, growing, and beyond.

I spoke with Shai-Lee Spigelman, who founded the Think Next conference to help Microsoft interact with the tech community. Spigelman says that she sees about 130 applications from companies who want to participate in the conference, which is now in its fourth year and only accepts 20 companies to demo at the event.

Zack Weisfeld of Microsoft R&D tells me that the Think Next conference is the biggest tech conference in Israel, and it expects over 2,000 participants to check out the companies showing off cutting edge products like iOnRoad, which we’ve covered in the past.

Both Spigelman and Weisfeld tell me that Microsoft is working extremely hard to become a part of the ecosystem, as well as reinvent the way that the company works with entrepreneurs. In fact, most of the products that are being shown off at Think Next don’t utilize Microsoft products or platforms at all, which shows that the company is serious about supporting open innovation.

Some of the companies here are using Microsoft-built technology, such as XBox Kinect. The coolest use of this technology that I’ve seen anywhere so for is something a company called Kinvestix is doing. Check out the video below, complete with demo:

There is some really cutting edge stuff going on here and Tel Aviv and I’m glad that I’m getting to check it out. It’s nice to get outside of the US, and specifically our little Silicon Valley bubble, to see what big problems other parts of the world are working on.

This country seems extremely unique in that it already has a strong sense of community and when you throw a huge pool of technology talent on top of that core, big things are going to happen. In fact, a lof of the tech folks are buzzing about Israel getting Google Street View, which just happened last week.

I’ll be checking out more of the companies as the day goes on and will let you know about the cool things I find. Oh, and the weather is absolutely gorgeous if you were wondering. Tel Aviv truly is a beautiful city, and there’s definitely something special in the air.

Did you know? A Facebook user in Israel spends an average of 11 hours on the site…a day.