Don’t look now, but there’s a dark horse in the race to become the hitech center
of the Startup Nation.
Jerusalem is perhaps the last place you’d think of
as a center of technology, but as it happens, there are dozens of large – and
perhaps hundreds of small – established tech companies and startups in the
Take, for example, biotechnology. There are currently 100
life-sciences companies in Jerusalem employing more than 32,000 people – almost
12 percent of the city’s workforce.
They are largely focused on
development of therapeutics in the fields of oncology, immune-related diseases,
neurodegenerative disorders, cardiovascular problems, infectious diseases and
orthopedics. Jerusalem companies are also leaders in several of the most
lucrative and promising life-sciences fields, such as brain research and
regenerative medicine, particularly stem-cell research.
surprising statistics for many of us, but the administration of Jerusalem Mayor
Nir Barkat is doing its best to change the perception of the city among the
Israeli public to include “hi-tech powerhouse” among the other images that our
minds conjure up when we think of Jerusalem. In recent years, the city – via the
Jerusalem Development Authority – has developed a program to provide grants and
tax incentives to qualified life-science companies that locate their offices or
development centers in the city. The program, called BioJerusalem, provides
grants of between NIS 600,000 and NIS 2.4 million to companies, depending on
their size, market value and potential.
But as attractive as those
incentives are, companies won’t flock to the city unless there is a qualified
base of workers to take on the jobs that they provide. Fortunately, the city has
been hard at work developing programs that will ensure that students who study
in Jerusalem’s higher education institutions remain in the city past graduation
to work, and hopefully to live.
That effort is being undertaken by the
nonprofit New Spirit (Ruach Hadasha) organization (www.new-spirit.org.il), which
for the past seven years has been working to help students in Jerusalem find
jobs and build connections in a variety of areas, including media, art,
international relations and diplomacy, urban planning, tourism – and now,
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The organization’s internship project, in cooperation with the
JDA and the “Academic City” group, and with a budget this year of more than NIS
4 million, works to place students in a variety of companies and organizations,
giving them an opportunity to use what they’re learning and helping them build a
relationship with influential people in their fields.
The new program,
directed by New Spirit’s Sivan Vardi, kicked off its activity several weeks ago
at a big bash at Intel’s Har Hotzvim center. The event was attended by Barkat
and top hi-tech officials from Intel and other Jerusalem-located
“We are sure the project is going to be a success,” Vardi
says. “Our experience shows that the internship program is one of the best ways
to keep students in Jerusalem. We have a lot of experience working with private
and public companies and organizations, and we realized there was a good
potential for success in a hi-tech internship program.”
program in the hi-tech component has 500 students from higher education
institutions located in Jerusalem, including the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
the Jerusalem College of Technology, Hadassah College, the Jerusalem College of
Engineering and others (Vardi hopes to enroll 50 students in the program’s first
stages). Many of the students are on scholarship or are from lower socioeconomic
groups, and they generally work six hours a week.
“While that model
worked fine for most disciplines, we believe we will have to change that formula
for hi-tech companies, where longer hours for projects the students will be
working on will be needed,” Vardi says.
Because of those extra hours,
Vardi is hopeful she will be able to secure stipends for students in the hi-tech
Preference will be given to students enrolled in
engineering or computer courses, but Vardi would like to enroll students from
other disciplines as well, in line with the hope that opportunities and jobs in
hi-tech will outstrip the number of candidates in the coming years.
whole point of New Spirit’s program is to ensure that students remain in
Jerusalem, living in the city and working at one of the city’s many startups. A
study conducted last March shows that the program works, at least in the other
areas that the internship program places students.
“The study showed that
64 percent of graduates who went through the internship program currently live
and work in Jerusalem,” Vardi says. That’s a very impressive figure, considering
that many people who work in Jerusalem have chosen to live in suburbs such as
Ma’aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion, she says.
“We realize Jerusalem is
complicated and that there are many factors impacting on the decision to live
here,” says Vardi, adding that New Spirit also lobbies for affordable housing
and better cultural opportunities.
The study shows that “it’s clear that
students are mainly worried about jobs,” Vardi says, “and that’s a problem we
hope to help them to solve.”digitalisrael.net
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