Facebook launches Tel Aviv 'Playground' to boost local innovation

"This country is not just deeply meaningful for me, but also for Facebook," said Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, who briefly lived in Israel as a young child.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (L) and Facebook Israel general manager Adi Soffer Teeni (R) inaugurate the company's Tel Aviv "Playground," August 14, 2019 (photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (L) and Facebook Israel general manager Adi Soffer Teeni (R) inaugurate the company's Tel Aviv "Playground," August 14, 2019
(photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg inaugurated the social media giant’s “Playground” in central Tel Aviv on Wednesday, establishing a new platform for the local business and start-up community.
Offering cutting-edge facilities for promising entrepreneurs, including workshop spaces, meeting rooms and media production studios, Playground aims to serve as a bridge between Israeli start-ups and global customers, between traditional businesses and innovators, and between the hi-tech ecosystem and underrepresented groups in Israeli society.
“This country is not just deeply meaningful to me, but also to Facebook,” said Sandberg, who briefly lived in Israel as a young child. “This is a country of start-ups and entrepreneurs. Our goal in this space at Playground is to help these start-ups become the leading tech companies.”
Thirteen entrepreneurs have already been selected to participate in Playground’s “Start-Up Growth Program” for consumer-oriented businesses. The start-ups have all raised capital and are considered to be showing strong signals for product-market fit.
Selected start-ups include money transfer platform Rewire, digital fresh produce marketplace Shookit and employee stock option platform EquityBee. The growth program will offer professional tracks for CEOs, CTOs, vice presidents of product and vice presidents of marketing.
The new space, located on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard at one of Facebook’s two Israel offices, will also host events for the wider business community, led by both Facebook and representatives of the start-up ecosystem. Facebook is also working on a range of programs to share methodologies and best practices with local audiences.
“We want to help people access economic opportunity, and that starts with digital skills,” said Sandberg. “People are using technology across the world but [are] afraid that technological change will leave them behind. Our role is to make everyone feel empowered to use technology.”
The new Playground platform, Sandberg said, will aim to train 15,000 people annually and help more businesses replicate the success of leading Israeli start-ups. She cited the accomplishments of Tel Aviv-based company Monday.com on multiple occasions, which was founded in 2012 and last month secured investment valuing the company at $1.9 billion.
“Every start-up wants to build a global company that breaks the local boundaries,” said Adi Soffer Teeni, general manager of Facebook Israel. “In Israel, a country of only nine million people, scaling globally isn’t really a choice – it’s a must.”
Ahead of next month’s Knesset elections, Sandberg also took the opportunity to emphasize Facebook’s efforts to cut down fake news and ensure greater transparency of political advertising.
Under a mechanism first rolled out in Israel ahead of April’s elections, all political ads will feature a disclaimer with the name of the account that funded them. Non-Israelis will not be able to take out ads for or against Israeli candidates, and those seeking to do so will have to confirm their identity with Facebook by providing government-issued ID.
“I believe deeply that technology can be a very powerful force for good,” Sandberg said. “In order for the good to continue, we know we need to earn people’s trust and make sure people are safe on our platforms.
“We know and we’ve often learned the hard way that online security is a job that will never be finished, because we’re up against very determined adversaries. While we’ll never stop the bad from happening, we’re determined to stay vigilant.”
Facebook first opened an office in Israel in 2013, and today employs more than 300 workers. The company’s dedicated engineering hub – the second-largest Facebook R&D center outside of the US – is part of its growth group, responsible for products including Facebook Lite, internet.org and Express Wi-Fi.