Putting Jerusalem on the innovation map

The Jerusalem Development Authority is quietly working behind the scenes to ensure that the capital city is the prime destination for life science start-ups in the Middle East.

June 13, 2019 16:44
4 minute read.
Putting Jerusalem on the innovation map

JERUSALEM CURRENTLY has between 600-900 start-ups.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Forget those reports that talk about Jerusalem as an “emerging” hub of innovation, or the ones that speculate that in a few years the city will contend with some of the other tech-savvy cities around the world. Why?

Because all that talk fails to mention that Jerusalem is not merely on its way to being the ultimate destination for start-ups – it’s already there.

This is especially true in the life sciences realm, where Startup Genome LLC ranked the city #10 in life sciences and #20 in artificial intelligence start-ups. It’s also impossible to forget – or dismiss – Intel purchasing the Jerusalem-based Mobileye for for $15.3 billion, in what is the biggest exit in Israeli history.

According to Startup Genome LLC, which independently monitors over one million companies across 150 cities, Jerusalem currently has between 600-900 start-ups, which average about $2.6 billion in revenue total.

“Our international recognition is through the roof,” boasted Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) senior business development director Itzik Ozer.

This spike in innovation didn’t come out of thin air though. JDA, along with the other elements working with the municipality, crafted a strategic six-year game plan to make sure Jerusalem cultivates its own start-up footprint.

“We realized we need a new outlook. Our talent in Jerusalem is unparalleled, especially within our universities. So we wanted to tap into that talent and have it translate to hi-tech sphere,” Ozer said.

How did they do that? First, they created hubs in Jerusalem that provided R&D labs and a home for accelerators. For example, with the Biohouse workspace, located within Hadassah Hospital, which serves as a home away from home for IBM’s digital health accelerator and the BioGiv lab space, the city is ensuring that the ecosystem has the infrastructure it needs to thrive.

It is also dedicated to training local talent. Recently, JDA assisted in bringing the renowned Lean Launchpad program to the capital. The five-month “crash course” teaches start-ups how to cultivate, market and fine-tune their ideas during the early stages when start-ups are most vulnerable. It is telling that such a prestigious international program didn’t make its Israel debut in Tel Aviv, but rather right in the heart of Jerusalem.

“Our initial goal was to land in the top 50 of recognized start-up cities in the world. We made it there in 2015. The rapid advancement we’re seeing is undeniable,” Ozer marveled. “It’s rare for a government entity to have this much influence, and yet, we were able to play an integral part in creating a robust ecosystem in the life science start-up scene in Jerusalem.”
INJECTING THE city with such a powerful dose of innovation has many positive repercussions. For one, it is having a huge impact on employment. Ozer predicts that the 18,000 people currently working in a Jerusalem start-up now will double in the coming years.

 ‘JERUSALEM IS A hi-tech and bio-med hub in Israel’ (Courtesy)

Additionally, international conferences are flocking to Jerusalem for their flagship confabs. These conferences are not just limited to hi-tech. Sure, there are popular tech conferences like the OurCrowd summit that brought 10,000 participants, and the Federation of European Biochemical Societies that brought 1,600 attendees when it hosted its conference in Jerusalem in 2017. But Jerusalem also held the American Jewish Committee Global Forum and March of the Nations (which brought 1,200 and 6,000 participants, respectively) last year.

In 2018 alone, Jerusalem held over 600 conferences with locally based organizations and 180 international ones.

Such a dramatic influx of people, naturally, impacts the tourism industry in a positive way. In Jerusalem hotels today, about 83% of the rooms are booked year-round.

“Tourism and the hi-tech scene both influence each other. We want to create synergy between the two sectors,” JDA tourism direct Ilanit Melchior said. “The OurCrowd Summit is a great example. It not only brought tourists who filled hotel rooms, but it also attracted potential investors.”

JDA has several programs in place to help tourists feel at home. Unsurprisingly, some of them are pretty tech-savvy.

There’s the Jerusalem CityPass, which gives discounted access to many popular attractions throughout the city and can be purchased before visitors even get to Israel.

Tourists looking for what to do in the city can also visit the the ITravelJerusalem website, which is available in six different languages, where a list of weekly events is provided.
However, despite the tendency to search online for everything, there is something to be said for person-to-person interaction when one is visiting a new city.

JDA understands that, too, and has logistically placed colorful ITravelJerusalem trucks where attendants answer whatever questions a tourists may have. It’s not completely low-tech though, as they are also furnished with charging stations for those who need to give their phone a little more juice.

“These new services will offer great help for tourists and will make ‘all the dots connect’ in Jerusalem. As part of this concept, we also plan on adding a free-of-charge Wi-Fi service across the city in the near future,” said Melchior.

But as far as the booming life sciences tech scene goes, JDA believes the city has only just begun to demonstrate to the world what it’s capable of.

During the concluding dinner for the Lean Launchpad program at Jerusalem’s Khan Theater, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion said, “Jerusalem is a hi-tech and bio-med hub in Israel, and is highly respected around the world. As mayor, I will continue to do everything I can to support this growth.”

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