How Jerusalem grew to become a major technology and innovation center of Israel
Recognized as the cradle of many religions, a historic center and home to over 2,000 active archaeological sites, the city of Jerusalem has long been a center of discussion around the world.
But even with religion, culture and history at its core, Israel’s groundbreaking technology and innovation ecosystem in Jerusalem has found its place. Many of them are housed in the stone of Jerusalem, and hundreds of startups and tech companies have made Jerusalem their headquarters over the past decade.
To date, Jerusalem is home to some 400 startups with its strongest companies in sectors including biotech and life sciences, medicine and healthcare, machine learning, AI and software, according to Inbal Gottesman , senior director of the Jerusalem ecosystem at Start-Up Nation Central (SNC), a nonprofit that tracks the country’s high-tech industry. Jerusalem also has 22 multinationals active in the city, 24 venture capital (VC) firms, 11 academic institutions, 27 innovation hubs (accelerators, incubators) and just over 20 technology communities.
A decade ago, there were just 200 technology companies in the industry, according to SNC. “There were only seven active VCs in the city and a huge lack of funding,” she tells NoCamels, “In 2012, Jerusalem was also suffering from a shortage of office space, a problem that doesn’t exist. more, thanks to the huge momentum of developments (such as the Hujitech building, the future job and high-tech park belonging to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) as well as creative solutions led by the JDA (Jerusalem Development Authority) which transformed the old university dormitories into technical offices.
While Tel Aviv and Herzliya are widely known as Israel’s financial and technology hubs, in the country dubbed the “Startup Nation”, the ancient city of Jerusalem is rapidly advancing to become a major technology and innovation hub in Israel. .
“Jerusalem has a thriving tech ecosystem with companies like Mobileye, as well as major tech hubs in Har Hotzvim and Malcha, startups like Hebrew University research-based Sufresca, and our LABS/02 incubator. We are also hosting the largest business event in the country’s history in Jerusalem, the OurCrowd Global Investor Summit, which will return in February 2023,” OurCrowd CEO Jon Medved told NoCamels.
On Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), celebrated on Sunday, May 29, NoCamels explores how Jerusalem has become a capital of innovation.
Elie Wurtman, co-founder and partner of VC PICO Venture Partners, has contributed greatly to the success of the high-tech landscape in Israel, and more specifically in Jerusalem. So what does he think of the evolution of innovation in the city?
“Everyone thinks Tel Aviv is the capital of innovation,” he tells NoCamels, “But I’m going to share with you a secret that if you want to know where the best entrepreneurs in Israel come from, the people who built the biggest companies, the people responsible for more than 50% of the production of the startup nation. They grew up in Jerusalem. They may have built their companies in Tel Aviv, or in Herzliya or in Boston, but the idea that some of the best entrepreneurs come from Jerusalem is a well-known fact,” he adds, noting that former Waze CEO Noam Bardin grew up in Jerusalem as well as one of the company’s founders. Israeli cybersecurity company Check Point Software Technologies, Gil Shwed, and four of the founders of ironSource, a unicorn that creates tools for app developers, and a founder of Mellanox who was born in Jerusalem. Israeli rented a space of 300 square meters ed in the Jerusalem Technology Park for its sixth R&D center in the country, Calcalist reported.
He says most people don’t even realize that Jerusalem has been instrumental in Israel’s tech industry since the 1990s.
“First of all, I’ve been an entrepreneur in Jerusalem since 1993, creating startups there. Jerusalem in the 90s was the epicenter of startups. People don’t know that today. They think Tel-Aviv has been there forever. Tel Aviv only emerged in the early 2000s after the Second Intifada. Many young people had left Jerusalem. I called it nuclear winter. So you basically have a decade from 2001 to 2011 or 12 where nothing was happening there and the hub of startups was in Tel Aviv. It was in Herzliya. And yet, there were a few things happening around the same time, which I found very exciting.
In the interview, Wurtman noted that from 2006 he went to Herzliya for his associate position at Benchmark Capital, but realized his next chapter was going to be “re-energizing the entrepreneurial community. in Jerusalem”. According to Wurtman, the active crowdfunding platform OurCrowd had just started and Jon Medved, its founder and CEO was starting to establish his office in Jerusalem and becoming a major funder of the Israeli high-tech ecosystem. Also, Siftech, an accelerator run by the Hebrew University Students’ Union was the first accelerator to establish itself in the city in 2012 and many accelerators have followed its path. Today, Siftech is considered the “nerve center of Jerusalem’s emerging startup scene“.
Later, he says, unicorns like Lightricks and OrCam — companies worth more than $1 billion — would be developed, along with a “small company started by a Hebrew University professor. That company, of course, was Mobileye.
The biggest acquisition ever by an Israeli company to date belongs to Mobileye, a company that develops advanced driver assistance systems for self-driving cars, and was sold to Intel in 2017 for a whopping $15. .3 billion. Mobileye was founded by Professor Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram, who also founded OrCam.
Wurtman made his own efforts to revitalize the high-tech industry when he set up his company, PICO, in the Talpiot neighborhood, the southeast Jerusalem area that in 2015 was best known for its area industrial and its urban dynamism than for its appeal to start-ups and technology companies.
“One of the other things about Talpiot from a vision standpoint, it’s one of the ugliest neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Most of Jerusalem needs to be preserved for historical reasons, but I just felt like we were succeeding in building a vision [in Talpiot,] then one might actually realize that you could transform Talpiot the same way you could transform other industrial areas next to cities – people don’t remember this, but Herzliya Pituach was famous for its car garages, before it came to offices and restaurants. ”
Another reason Wurtman chose to build PICO’s headquarters in the Talpiot neighborhood was because it was a “meeting place” for all walks of life in the city.
“In Jerusalem, we like to think of hospitals and universities as meeting places for the different societies that live in the city. But everyone – Arabs, Jews, religious, secular – comes to Talpiot because it is a commercial area. Everyone comes here to do their shopping, everyone comes there to have something repaired. Everyone comes here to have their car repaired. And the idea was that we could connect to the real energy of Jerusalem.
So what is the true energy of Jerusalem? Wurtman says it’s the “diversity of the city.” It is multiculturalism. It is the international meeting point for all faiths. Tourists pass by. But I’m saying if we – I’m sitting right now in my office in Tel Aviv – if we go down and stay on Rothschild Boulevard, you’re going to meet the same person, aren’t you? “, he told NoCamels in a Zoom. call, “In Jerusalem it’s colorful, I look outside the PICO offices in Jerusalem are all glass walls to bring the city inside.” You look outside, you see ultra-Orthodox Haredim, you see Arabs, you see, religious Jews, secular Jews, hippies, artists. It’s just colorful, and the energy for the creative industries is super important. It’s one of the ingredients that I think inspires people and stimulates creativity.
“The Jerusalem ecosystem is first and foremost a community-centric ecosystem,” says Gottesman, “The ecosystem thrives not only on talent but also on the spirit of collaboration and partnership, between startups, VCs, hubs, and accelerators, academia and government.
Jerusalem also holds an incredible advantage in biotechnology, life sciences and medical innovation, thanks to its world-renowned institutions such as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Hadassah Hospital and Sharee Tzedek Hospital. When you combine this collaborative spirit with the talent and access that comes from academia, incredible companies like Mobileye, OrCam, Lightricks and BrainQ are born.
“Jerusalem is a beautiful place to work, with a vibrant ecosystem, especially for life science companies like us, with good government incentive programs and proximity to major academic centers,” said Yotam Drechsler, CEO and co-founder of BrainQ Technologies, at NoCamels. . BrainQ has developed an AI-powered device that delivers electromagnetic stimulation to the upper limbs of people with reduced motor skills.
“A lot of creative people with big goals to build big things come from Jerusalem,” adds Wurtman.