Entrepreneur Yitzik Crombie, founder of the Haredi Hi-Tech Forum, said on Tuesday at the organization’s second annual conference in the capital that start-ups initiated by men and women from the community would be the coming wave in Israel’s ongoing development as a leader in technology-based innovation.
Crombie established the Haredi Hi-Tech Forum two years ago, in cooperation with Racheli Ganot, herself an entrepreneur and founder of a hi-tech company, to provide assistance to like-minded people within the haredi sector to help them develop their own business initiatives.
Ganot, whose company Rachip, which develops microchips, employs 100 haredi women, explained that before the forum was established, efforts to increase haredi participation in the workforce focused on employing haredim, but did not promote haredi business initiatives.
Ganot and Crombie therefore set up the forum and established a series of courses for haredim involved in hi-tech business ventures seeking to develop their enterprises.
Some 40 start-ups and groups applied to take part, out of which nine were selected by the forum to participate in the course, which included training on business development, raising capital and marketing.
Another 30 start-ups have applied for the 10 places in the new round of courses for 2014 in Jerusalem, with similar numbers applying for the program in Bnei Brak, while separate courses will be run for nascent businesses which have be founded by haredi women.
“Haredi start-ups are the coming thing,” said Crombie.
Hi-tech innovation in Israel is well known, but it needs to be refreshed and new ideas need to be brought in. The current wave of haredi start-ups are going to fill that need for a new wave of innovation, just like the Russian immigration did 20 years ago,” he continued.
Crombie and Ganot spoke of the need to promote haredi entrepreneurship and employment of haredim in general as an important step in helping the community improve its socioeconomic status and in boosting the economy as a whole, and insisted that there exists a significant well of capable manpower in the community to further this goal.
The conference on Tuesday, held at the JVP Media Quarter in Jerusalem and staged in cooperation with the JVP venture capital firm, brought senior politicians to the event to discuss haredi integration into the workforce as well as the general political scene as it relates to the haredi sector.
During the panel discussion between MKs Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), Yariv Levin (Likud), Erel Margalit (Labor),and Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi), Margalit hit out against government policies and efforts to increase haredi participation in the job market.
“There are politicians who make a career out of hating haredim and turn their hatred into their profession,” said Margalit, who founded JVP, in a thinly veiled attack on Yesh Atid chairman and Finance Minister Yair Lapid.
“The government with one hand preaches to haredim to integrate into the workforce, and but with the other prevents them from doing so by granting meager budgets for this issue. The time has come for the Lapid-Netanyahu government to present a serious and budgeted program for employing haredim,” he continued.
Gafni declared that the haredi community “wants to work and wants to progress,” but accused the government of talking a lot about integrating haredim but doing little to bring this about, praising, however, Margalit’s efforts in this regard.
Although Gafni said that haredi MKs had not done enough to promote this effort, he added that perceived attacks on the haredi sector were forcing the community to turn inwards, and pointed to increases in the cost of daycare for haredi families as an example of poor policy that was hurting integration into the workforce.
Shaked defended the government’s record, however, and pointed to an NIS 400 million budget approved by the Economy Ministry for professional training and employment sectors designated for the haredi sector.
In heated discussions about the law for haredi conscription that was recently approved, she noted that haredi men were the only Jewish men in the country who are able to chose a civilian service track instead of military service, and insisted that haredim can and must play a greater part in the economy.
“Just like immigration has been an engine of growth, haredi society can also have a similar effect... We need to prepare the haredi community which [at present] is not learning to work,” Shaked said.