Peres visits local start-up world

The capital’s JVP Media Quarter has launched 100 hi-tech firms.

June 26, 2013 21:37
President Shimon Peres at his residence in Jerusalem, June 17, 2013.

Shimon Peres at his residence, 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

The abiding interest of Israel’s No. 1 citizen in high technology is a well known fact.

On Wednesday morning, President Shimon Peres visited JVP Media Quarter, the brainchild of former venture capitalist Erel Margalit, who is now a member of Knesset.

Located in what used to be a warehouse in Jerusalem’s Old Train Station, JVP, now celebrating its 20th year, is a fusion of venture capital, technology incubators, creative and performing artists, and social entrepreneurism.

Adjacent to the warehouse was the National Mint which had been built in 1937. Margalit took it over in 2006 and renovated it so that it could be incorporated into the JVP complex.

Since it began operations, JVP has helped to launch 100 startups, the CEOs of four of which made presentations to Peres in the presence some 50 young JVP social entrepreneurs, start-up executives and a group of schoolchildren.

Alluding to the international economic crisis, Margalit said it is precisely during the most difficult times that Israel continues to be the most innovative. It all starts from nothing, like a seed that grows into a tree, he said.

Initially, Israeli hi-tech companies focused on communications, telephones, information systems and video, but in 2001, “we had to reinvent ourselves and create new applications for individuals,” he said.

The four companies that made presentations were Cyber-Ark Software that specializes in information security and develops and markets digital vaults; Siano Mobile Silico that brings high quality digital television to mobile devices; WiShi, an all-female enterprise that helps users to wear the right thing at the right time; and AnyClip, a video content company which helps users to identify subject matter and soundtracks.

Cyber-Ark was founded in 1999 by a team of young people who wanted to create a flagship – and they succeeded, said Chen Bitan General Manager of EMEA, heading the Israeli office of Cyber Ark, who was proud to report that today Cyber-Ark is one of the leading information security companies in the world with 1,700 customers including a third of the companies listed in Fortune magazine’s top 50, and eight of the world’s largest banks, as well as all major companies in Israel.

Cyber-Ark was the first company in the world to find solutions to protect the critical network from hackers, said Bitan, and has a monitoring service which constantly monitors all network activity.

It has 350 employees, with R&D facilities in Petah Tikva and more than 25 branches abroad.

Siano, established in 2005 by three young entrepreneurs, brings quality digital television to the mobile phone and the tablet, said CEO Alon Ironi. Without the use of an electric outlet or a computer, users can receive eight to 10 hours of television without having to change the battery, Ironi explained. “Our solutions appeal to the younger generation which is used to receiving information on a mobile phone,” he said. All Israeli channels can be received on a smartphone without connecting to the Internet.

Hila Angel, one of the founders and developers of Wishi, whose slogan is Wear It, Share It, launched the application only this week. Its purpose is to help fashion conscious people with their styling. Using a tablet computer, Angel showed Peres how anyone interested making the most out of what they have in their closet with the addition of one or two other items and the right accessories can look like a million dollars.

AnyClip’s presentation by CEO Oren Nauman was the most entertaining, in that it was a mix of clips of news documentaries, feature films and television sitcoms for which the keyword was ‘president.’ The word was repeated over and over with different visuals, and there were repetitive clips of two presidents – US President Barack Obama conferring the Medal of Freedom on President Peres.

AnyClip, established five years ago, is based in Jerusalem and has a 25-member team.

Much as he loves the business side of JVP, Margalit is even prouder of the social entrepreneurship.

In 2002, he and his wife, Debbie, looking around Jerusalem where they live, realized that the most advanced hi-tech enterprises were 500 meters away from abject poverty – and not just in one area of the capital.

So they started their Bekehilla social entrepreneurship program in a school in the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood. The program has mushroomed to 17 schools spread throughout three Arab neighborhoods and three Jewish neighborhoods.

Forty permanent mentors help youngsters to improve their grades and to keep going to school until they attain highschool matriculation (bagrut). In addition there are 50 volunteers who opt to do a year of civilian national service before going into the army.

One of them, Dana, from Kfar Vitkin, who has been in Jerusalem since last August, said they work with children in the classroom, with small groups outside the classroom and with individuals in community centers. They help them with their studies, play games with them and help them to develop greater self-confidence.

“We’ve learned to understand people who are different from us, and this has prepared us better for when we go to the army,” she said.

Two of the students, one from Talpiot, and the other from Beit Safafa, confirmed that both their grades and their self-esteem had improved remarkably.

“Society is changing before our eyes,” said Margalit. “If one organization can do this with 22,000 youngsters in 10 years, a state can reach 2 million youngsters in 10 years. Children can break out of the cycle of poverty if you give them the tools with which to dream about what they want to be when they grow up.”

Margalit termed the venture “the politics of opportunity.”

Beersheba, he said, was becoming a cyber city, with companies opening up all the time and creating job opportunities for at least 3,000 people and possibly as many as 7,000.

Nazareth and surrounds is full of talented, young educated Arabs who want to be integrated into Israel’s creative economy, he said.

Safed has a new medical school, and developments in the Galilee indicate that the North will not remain a peripheral area, but will acquire new energy, said Margalit.

“Let’s take our successes and spread them, so that we can develop a just economy for everyone,” he said.

Peres, who had asked a lot of questions throughout, was visibly impressed, and said that what these start-up companies had achieved by way of breakthroughs had enhanced Israel’s technological strength in the world.

For children to emerge from poverty he said, is to emerge from ignorance. It is essential that they learn to be fluent in English. That should be a first step he insisted.

He has already spoken about this to the education minister, he said, suggesting that children be taught English from age three so that they learn to speak without an accent.

As far as teenagers are concerned, Peres said that they are much better educated and have greater access to knowledge than previous generations, and that those in grades 10, 11 and 12, should be employed a couple of hours a day by different companies to see what new ideas they can contribute, but also to enable them to earn a little money.

If teenage students were gainfully employed there would be a significant reduction in teenage alcoholic consumption and drug abuse, Peres said. “They can do fantastic things for the work force,” he said.

He spoke of the importance of ensuring that all children in the country have proper nourishment, and suggested that instead of National Insurance Institute child allotments being paid to parents, the government use the money to ensure that every child in daycare centers, kindergartens and schools be fed nutritious meals.

Very supportive of the Bekehilla program, Peres said it was a means of uniting Jerusalem by creating equal opportunities for all of its citizens.

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