Participants of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation's second cycle of Starting-Up Together. .
(photo credit: ROEI HIRSCH)
“Diversity” was the word on everyone’s lips on Thursday as the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Jaffa launched the second cycle of Starting-Up Together, a multi-cultural pre-accelerator program for aspiring entrepreneurs.
The program, focusing on innovation in the field of smart cities, is backed by the Peres Center and leading partners including the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation, MassChallenge and TAU Ventures.
Forty participants, an equal share of Jews and Arabs, and men and women, from across the country will take part in the program, which offers 10 weeks of personalized mentoring, entrepreneurship workshops, business boot camps and design thinking development.
The unique initiative provides an entry point into the Israeli start-up ecosystem, a first step which can prove challenging to reach for Israel’s minority populations.
“I believe that the most important resource that Israel has is human beings,” Chemi Peres, chairman of the board of directors at the Peres Center and managing partner of Pitango, told The Jerusalem Post.
“The human talent in Israel, however, is actually employed by many multinational companies and start-ups. We are running out of human talent. Diversity is the best way to address this and it will also yield the best results,” said Peres.
“In a world which is turning towards combining social impact and investment, diversity is the main subject that Israel needs to embark on.”
Unlike other innovation programs which aim to incubate already-developed business ideas, Starting-Up Together focuses on incubating potential entrepreneurs, some of whom may have missed the education system’s recent emphasis on STEM studies and the five-unit mathematics matriculation exam.
Rather than arriving with ideas ready for scaling up, the program focuses on the charisma, ability and desire of participants to be part of the hi-tech ecosystem.
“We didn’t simply send out a call for applications to the program,” said Yarden Leal-Yablonka, deputy director-general at the Peres Center.
“Instead, we had approximately two whole months of outreach, through the Internet and other programs that we know in the ecosystem. We also produced Arabic-language content.”
While Israel is well known for its hi-tech prowess, the industry is also known for its lack of diversity, relying on only a small segment of the population: primarily Jewish, non-ultra Orthodox men. This has also led to a shortage of skilled hi-tech workers in the market.
According to a study published in December by employment researcher Dr. Gal Zohar and not-for-profit organization itworks, six out of every 10 Israeli hi-tech employees are Jewish men under 55.
This lack of diversity becomes increasingly apparent in the case of Israel’s Arab population, which represents a mere 3.34% of the country’s hi-tech sector workforce, and only 1.5% of key engineering and programming positions.
“Joining these sorts of innovation initiatives is not the usual way of life for the Bedouin community,” Salman Abu Amdia, a 25-year-old father of four from Rahat, told the Post.
“I’m very happy that this opportunity has come about and that there are many participants from Rahat here. Our community’s needs evolve all the time and the old-fashioned way won’t give us everything we need. We must look at entrepreneurship and technology,” he said.
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