When one speaks of the Israeli Start-up Nation, for the uninitiated that usually means Tel Aviv. However, over the past decade, Jerusalem has leveraged its diverse population and quietly created a start-up hub of its own.
It was Intel’s $15 billion acquisition of Mobileye, a Jerusalem- based start-up pioneering technology for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, that officially put the city on the global tech map.
That staggering success is not a one-off. Global Startup Ecosystem’s report listed Jerusalem as one of the top 30 tech cities in the world; its 250 start-ups four years ago have grown to over 600 today, and its Jerusalem Gateway project, slated to be over a million square meters in size, will be a business center home to roughly 40,000 jobs, the municipality says.
That sharp ascent doesn’t happen overnight, and much can be attributed to the unique spirit that imbues a city where Arabs, secular and religious Jews, and Christians must all find a way to live together in harmony.
Made in JLM understands this and is a non-profit dedicated to ensuring not just that Jerusalemites live in concert with each other, but that life here is efficient, productive and inclusive.
Roy Munin, Made in JLM’s co-founder, knows technology is key to achieving this goal.
“Made in JLM helps develop the tech community in Jerusalem,” Munin, who splits his time between Made in JLM and as a Community Programs Manager at Orcam (a start-up owned by Mobileye co-founders), said.
One of the ways that vision gets executed is through Hack- JLM, one of Made in JLM’s flagship projects. HackJLM offers one-night events (usually weekly) where NGOs and various members of the tech community (developers, designers, etc.) gather to see how they can be mutually beneficial to each other. HackJLM believes in the importance of having these events on a regular basis so as to ensure the creation of ongoing relationships.
“We basically developed a model for us and figured the rest of the non-profits in Jerusalem should benefit from it as well,” Yehuda Leibler, a wise-beyond-his-years high school senior who volunteers at Made in JLM explained.
“We utilize the community to build tech and use tech as a tool for making non-profits work more efficiently. We figured we could help all the non-profits in the city because we have access to the tech community; they don’t. So if we could connect those two groups, we can help them accomplish a lot in just a few nights a year,” Leibler added.
During the events, the opportunities for symbiosis are infinite.
From NGOs that lack basic technological needs like a website, to a young Web developer seeking experience to pad his portfolio, most attendees come out of a hackathon either having met one of their goals or, at the very least, having devised a game plan for how to meet those goals.
“For the volunteers, it’s a great way to develop new skills with the help of skilled mentors – and to have your name signed on projects that real organizations then actually use to change lives,” Orly Izhaki, HackJLM’s co-founder said.
An example of such is ImaKadima, a social networking group of career-minded working mothers. They approached HackJLM when they were in need of a database that could connect members of their community.
After one hackathon experience, they matched with a developer who created a database perfectly suited to their needs.
It’s this kind of grassroots community outreach that is making the hi-tech scene in Jerusalem flourish.
“You have two very strong communities – you have a very rich non-profit sector in Jerusalem; and a growing, excited and community-oriented ecosystem in the hi-tech sector,” said Ariel Markose, the community director of the Jerusalem Model, an initiative spearheaded by the Leichtag Foundation.
“If you’re doing hi-tech in Jerusalem, you’re deliberately doing hi-tech in Jerusalem. You’re staying here by choice.
There’s a certain mind-set of these people in the community, and when they are brought together sparks fly and the magic happens,” she said.
The Leichtag Foundation was the first organization to officially back the HackJLM events by providing them with a micro-grant.
“HackJLM had all the right pieces,” Markose said. “It was a fantastic idea, answered a strong need for the community, and the partnership around HackJLM is incredible.”
When the first hackathon took place in the city’s JVP building last December, Munin and the team knew they had something special. In that one night, 30 talented people arrived from across the city, each vowing to return.
HackJLM has been able to leverage their initial funding by soliciting matching grants from New Spirit and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation’s ROI Community, of which Munin is a member.
HackJLM also recently won a WeWork Creator Award, which, in addition to prize money, comes with access to We- Work’s newest location, set to open its doors on Jerusalem’s King George Avenue next year.
What’s next on the non-profit’s ambitious agenda? At the moment, Munin hopes they will hire their first project manager, expanding their network of event attendees so HackJLM is known as the place that attracts Jerusalem’s best and brightest, and establishing a “digital fund” to support project expenses.
As for his ROI Community support, Munin is effusive in his praise: “ROI is amazing on so many levels. A lot of people involved in this project are ROIers and that’s not by accident,” he said.
It is no coincidence that ROI is a supporter. Transforming Jerusalem into a modern city leading the way into the 21st century is a long-standing passion project for its founder Lynn Schusterman, who was recently awarded the Builder of Jerusalem Award by Mayor Nir Barkat. Seeing this city grow and become a hi-tech powerhouse is a dream shared by both.
“Jerusalem is one of the strongest brands in the world with over 3,000 years of investment. Today, the city has emerged as one of the top hubs for innovation and excellence,” Barkat told The Jerusalem Post.
“As an entrepreneur, I deeply value the importance of bringing creative minds together and as mayor of Jerusalem, I believe that Made in JLM and HackJLM are an important part of this renaissance,” he added.
Munin, Izhaki, Leibler and the team are all proud to be part of this exciting time in the city’s history.
“HackJLM is important for the city because it makes all the NGOs more start-uppy,” Munin explained. “For the city of Jerusalem, it will be great, because the whole city will be able to do more with fewer resources. They can use or develop a technology sometimes that can save you significant sums of time and money.”
Take a fledgling start-up that attended a recent hackathon. It developed a conference attendee check-in app, so guests no longer have to write their information down on a piece of paper and organizers don’t have to waste precious man hours entering it into a database. A simple app like this can save a non-profit hundreds of dollars and hours of time.
“Jerusalem has so much potential – it’s overflowing with ideas and innovation,” said Justin Korda, executive director of ROI Community. “These young entrepreneurs in Jerusalem are harnessing the city’s assets and channeling them towards positive social change. It’s exciting to see the city’s human capital accessed for good in a way that both builds community and yields practical results.”
“Magic happens where people work together,” Munin said.
“HackJLM is a meeting place. Students work with senior mentors.
Teens work with the inspiring young adults they want to become.
Jews work with Arabs, secular Jews work with the ultra-Orthodox.
Women artists work with women coders. Social change-makers work with quick-thinking product experts. There is zero chance of leaving uninspired, without having learned something new, without having found the next opportunity.”
This article was written in cooperation with ROI Community.