PARTICIPANTS AT the inauguration of the Digital Starter project pose yesterday. From right: WIX President Nir Zohar, MK Rachel Azaria, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, Google Israel CEO Meir Brand, restaurateur Na’ama Weinman, Atidim founder Shaul Mofaz and Atidi.
(photo credit: TOMER POLTIN)
In an effort to bridge gaps between Israel’s periphery and center, hi-tech giants Google and Wix are training hundreds of volunteers to help boost the digital presence of the country’s southern and northern small businesses.
Under the new project, called “Digital Starter,” about 600 volunteers will accompany about 10,000 businesses as they learn to integrate digital tools into their companies.
Training areas include building websites, bolstering social media presence, increasing online visibility, creating newsletters, using maps and more, according to the project. Participating businesses will not only receive professional training, but also long-term support.
“We all know that Israel is a world leader when it comes to technological entrepreneurship, but the use of digital tools should not be the legacy of hi-tech only,” Google Israel CEO Meir Brand said at a launch event for the program at Google’s Campus Tel Aviv on Tuesday morning.
“Out of approximately 200,000 small businesses in the periphery, the chance that a business in the periphery will use digital tools in order to grow the business is 40% lower than businesses in the Center,” he said. “Therefore, today we are announcing the launch of the Digital Starter project, which aims to help small businesses in northern and southern Israel to grow by implementing digital tools.”
Working with Google and Wix on the initiative is Atidim, an NGO that aims to strengthen Israel’s periphery by promoting technological and scientific education.
While Wix is granting 10,000 premium subscriptions to its website services and Google is investing millions of shekels in the project, Atidim is providing 75,000 hours worth of volunteer work through its members, according to the project.
In the first phase of the project, 250 volunteers from Atidim will run a variety of programs under the framework of the project, the partners said. The volunteers, undergraduate and graduate students who have received specialized training from Google and Wix, will be accompanying businesses in 44 towns – from Majdal Shams in the North to Eilat in the South.
About 8% of small businesses in the periphery are closed each year and those that continue to operate grow at a rate 9% slower than businesses in the Center, according to a study recently conducted by Google and the Geocartography Knowledge Group.
However, the rate of growth of businesses with an online presence is 24% higher than those without one, the study said. Yet out of the periphery’s 200,000 businesses, 93% said they were aware of digital tools but felt that they were too complex to use.
“In the 21st century, there is no reason and no justification for small and medium businesses in the periphery not to be updated for commercialization online,” Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel said at the Tuesday launch event.
“As an online business, all borders are broken – there is no Center and no periphery, there are no walls of exclusion, there are no market limits,” she said. “Everything is open and the economy is growing.
The Digital Starter project meets a triangle of interests – economic, security and national – and therefore, as a government, we have a duty and responsibility to promote and support such important initiatives.”
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon likewise praised the program, stressing the importance of Israeli hi-tech’s presence at the forefront of both international technology and social causes.
“This project is a real opportunity for reducing gaps and for equality,” he said.
“Technology is a key element in reducing gaps. If we want to connect the periphery to the future, we will do so only through technology.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s launch, the partners conducted a pilot program in the cities of Arad, Yeroham and Mitzpe Ramon, with the participation of 250 small businesses.
After the program, 65% of business owners reported that they continued to use various tools for the benefit of their businesses, while 30% reported an increase in customers following the implementation of these tools, according to the partners.For more information about the project, visit digitalstarter.withgoogle.com.