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5 signs Start-Up Nation is spreading north

A handful of exciting new initiatives in the Galilee may indicate that Israeli innovation is not just a Tel Aviv story

Picture this: three unshaven guys in their 20 somethings are hunched over laptops perched on a crowded table littered with used coffee cups and take-out containers. Pieces of paper covered with scribbles are scattered about. Diagrams sketched on a white board display mazes of shapes  and arrows, labeled with words such as ‘cloud’, ‘content’, ‘client’. A small smudged window offers a glimpse of a city skyline back lit by the sun slipping into the sea. The team has been working day and night to finish coding the most exciting new app or platform or AI interface the world has yet to see. 

Quick, where is this scene located?

If you answered Tel Aviv then you have a good idea of why Israel is labeled the Start-up Nation. The list of successful Israeli start-ups emerging from the now famous Tel Aviv entrepreneurial scene continues to grow. Tel Aviv is the heart of Israel’s innovation brain power, making the city a Mecca for investors. In fact, Tel Aviv boasts such a highly developed ecosystem that nations around the world strive to understand the key to its entrepreneurial success.

In stark contrast to the whirlwind of innovation encompassing Tel Aviv, Israel’s periphery is a virtual wasteland. Despite the label, few venture capital funds are brave enough to venture outside the center of the country. Mentors, so crucial to the early stages of successful technology start-ups, are almost nonexistent in the periphery. The lack of a comprehensive entrepreneurial ecosystem has kept Israel’s northern region a virtual backwater in terms of any significant start-up activity.

Until now. Suddenly, like mushrooms after the rain, a multitude of new entrepreneurial initiatives have sprouted all over Israel’s northern periphery. Well, maybe multitude is a bit of an exaggeration but we have certainly seen more initiatives in the past few months than the north has witnessed in many years. Below is a partial list:

Moona-A Space for Change was established by a former Israeli air force pilot to serve schools and the greater population as a center of space and science education and innovation. The program is located in the Arab town of Sahnin. On November 19, Moona will be hosting a Singularity conference titled “Technology and Breakthrough Thinking” that is open to the general public.

Start-Up North (SUN) SUN is the brainchild of three Galilee residents who envision the emergence of a vibrant, empowered, innovation driven economy in the northern periphery. SUN seeks to organize the entrepreneurial potential and creativity of the area, raise public and private funding, and provide intensive coaching, mentorship, training, and guidance from the earliest stage to commercialization of a valid business initiative.

Nazareth Accelerator  On October 9, at a seminar for high tech entrepreneurship held in Nazareth, the Nazareth Business Incubator Center (NBIC) announced the launch of an incubation program led by Presentense, an organization that helps innovators and entrepreneurs build new ideas into transformational ventures. It’s rumored that Cisco will be a partner in this accelerator.

Hackathon@Nazareth 2013 On the weekend of October 25, the NBIC hosted this annual Hackathon where about 50 young Arab developers, including a group from Ramallah, and a handful of mentors gathered to take an idea from conception to working model in less than 48 hours. All fourteen teams were able to demo a working application at the end of the weekend.

ORT Braude Accelerator – On October 15, Karmiel based ORT Braude College of Engineering announced the launch of an in-house accelerator within the scope of its entrepreneurship and innovation center. Tal Catran, a seasoned entrepreneur, businessman, and prolific mentor of early stage start-ups, was brought in to lead the program. The accelerator will provide entrepreneurial students a framework to start up innovation oriented ventures while still in school.

Do these few almost simultaneous initiatives signify the early roots of a nascent start-up community in Israel’s northern periphery? At any given night in Tel Aviv an entrepreneur can choose from numerous courses, workshops, meetings, and networking events that may provide the contacts and knowledge required to take a venture one more step toward the market. An abundance of shared work spaces, hubs, accelerators, and entrepreneurship programs are available. Tel Aviv hosts a variety of international technology events and conferences. Global corporations such as Google and Microsoft have opened their doors and provide valuable tools and guidance to developers.

Such activity is only a dream for northern entrepreneurs but given the recent developments, perhaps the tides are changing. Maybe the right combination of determination, hard work, and laser focus on the end goal will enable the establishment of a vibrant innovation driven entrepreneurial community in the northern periphery. Given the potential benefits, it’s worth exploring.

About the Author
Laura Herschlag is the co-founder of Yarok Medtech, a medical cannabis consultancy working with established companies, early stage companies, and investors. Previously, Laura served as the director of business development of BOL Pharma, one of Israel's largest medical cannabis providers. Laura has over 2 decades of experience working with technology entrepreneurs as a business development and international marketing expert. She has held management level positions at Intel as well as several other high tech companies. Laura holds an MBA from the Kellogg-Recanati executive MBA program. Born and raised in New York and New Jersey, she moved to Israel in 1981.
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