(photo credit: Courtesy Nazareth Startup Weekend)
Nazareth is playing host to its first ever “Startup Weekend” from Thursday to Saturday, in an event that organizers say will tap into the innovative potential of Israel’s Arab population.
Startup Weekends, 54-hour events where developers, designers, marketers and product managers come together to share ideas and launch start-ups, have been held in more than 100 cities around the world, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Petah Tikva.
Sixty-five people – almost all of them Arabs – will present ideas for start-ups such as online and mobile applications at the Nazareth event. Participants will select the best 15 ideas, separate into groups to develop those ideas and present their projects to a panel of judges at the end of the weekend.
“We see Nazareth becoming Israel’s next hi-tech metropolis,” co-organizer Jouna Khalil told The Jerusalem Post.
“We have professional graduates from all the universities in Israel, and we don’t just want to be the substitute for cheap engineers in India. We have the people to make Nazareth the next Tel Aviv.”
Khalil, 24, has worked at Haifa medical- devices firm ActiViews since graduating in biomedical engineering from the Technion in 2010. The Nazareth native – whose mother is a computer-science engineer and father is a pharmacist – says she is fortunate to have parents who supported her decision to study at university.
She said Arabs are becoming more involved in hi-tech thanks to growth in the proportion of the community’s university graduates and increasing government and private-sector awareness about the importance of integrating Arab employees into the workforce.
There are already a number of Arab hi-tech success stories, although they receive scant attention in the media, Khalil said. As an example, she cited Alpha Omega, a small engineering firm founded by Imad Younis in Nazareth in 1993 that has become a global company offering advanced neurosurgery solutions.
Erel Margalit, founder and managing partner of Jerusalem Venture Partners, which is cosponsoring the event, agreed that the Arab sector holds a lot of untapped potential for Israel’s hitech industry.
“The Israeli hi-tech scene needs to include new groups if it is going to evolve beyond Herzliya and Kfar Shmaryahu,” he told the Post. “Unlike the American economy, we don’t have a large domestic market, so in order to evolve we need to penetrate the other foreign markets... The Middle East and North Africa is the one region that we are not selling to right now, and the Arab sector is the one that can help us reach those markets.”
Jerusalem and Nazareth – two conurbations with mixed Jewish and Arab populations – could both become centers of hi-tech cooperation, according to Margalit.
“This has economic potential beyond anything political, but it also has big political implications if managed in the right manner,” he said.