Is the Galilee Israel’s next big hi-tech hub?

If the proper strategy is employed, Israel’s northern region could become the next big thing in hi-tech.

 Crowds gather at the launch of the  International Foodtech Center at the new Margalit Startup City Galil in Kiryat Shmona.  (photo credit: Ofer Freiman)
Crowds gather at the launch of the International Foodtech Center at the new Margalit Startup City Galil in Kiryat Shmona.
(photo credit: Ofer Freiman)

Though its hilly, tree-covered landscapes hardly resemble Tel Aviv, which is considered the epicenter of the Start-Up Nation’s innovation scene, the Galilee could become Israel’s next hi-tech hub, assuming certain conditions are met and maintained.

According to experts, there is massive potential in the growing hi-tech scene near the country’s northern border – and with the right steps taken, that potential could be fully realized.

In regards to hi-tech chops, the Galilee region’s star city is Kiryat Shmona. The city is home to several start-ups – many of them operating in the food-tech space – as well as the recently-launched Margalit Start-Up City Galil, named after its founder Erel Margalit, founder and chairperson of venture capital fund Jerusalem Venture Partners. Last week, entrepreneurs, start-up founders, students and leading partners from the ecosystem in the Galilee crowded the Anshoo Pub in Kiryat Shmona during the Israel Innovation Authority’s “Talking Innovation at the Bar” event, where Margalit participated in a Q&A.

“We see many young people all over the country who don’t want to move to New York or to Tel Aviv in order to succeed, but want to succeed in their local environment, in their city,” said Margalit. In recent years, there has been growing disinterest in long commutes to city centers, which has been exacerbated by the mass-implementation of work from home during the pandemic.

As such, more and more hi-tech hubs are popping up across the country, populated by workers who would rather start a new geographical branch of the hi-tech sector than sit in traffic to reach an old one. In turn, networks such as OpenValley have spread across the country, opening hubs for start-ups and entrepreneurs who want to be a part of the hi-tech industry without committing to a soul-crushing commute.

A tree grows in the Galilee, in Israel's North. (credit: FLICKR COMMONS/JTA)A tree grows in the Galilee, in Israel's North. (credit: FLICKR COMMONS/JTA)

OpenValley director Shiri Green-Elgavish said, “In recent years, not in the least thanks to COVID, more and more people are choosing to live in the North. If in the past most of the professional population was concentrated in the central region, today more and more hi-tech workers prefer to move to the northern region and enjoy a [high] quality of life alongside appropriate employment in their field.” She made note of the “developing trend of workers who still refuse to travel from the North to workplaces in Tel Aviv and prefer to work close to their place of residence.”

A community of hi-tech workers who are less willing to commute is only one half of the equation, however. In order for those workers to work, there has to be a suitable business infrastructure.

“In order to realize the regional promise and realize the potential, we must try to promote and develop quality jobs,” said Green-Elgavish. “As part of the OpenValley network, we promote the establishment of a developed entrepreneurial ecosystem, which cultivates start-ups that allow entrepreneurs at various stages to grow their ventures in the area, while receiving the complete consulting envelope they need, to increase their chances of success.”

Perhaps equally important is drawing existing businesses away from the center and into these seedling tech communities.

“Another channel which is needed to promote the northern region in the hi-tech field is bringing growing hi-tech companies from the central region... and international hi-tech companies that will open R&D branches in the northern region,” said Green-Elgavish.

Margalit echoed the importance of reinforcing the Galilee’s infrastructure.

“In addition to social activities, what is needed is significant business activity that needs to come from the government, especially in the area of developing a regional economy. In order to succeed we need the academic research, the start-ups, the medium-sized and multinational companies and the government together. It’s in the nation’s interest.”

One aspect to be addressed in realizing the Galilee’s potential is the necessity for a cogent strategy to rebound from the pandemic.

Margalit said, “Corona did a lot of damage to the cities. The political and business leaders in many cities didn’t understand their responsibility to offer a response to young people in the large cities. In order to get the world back on track, cities need strong partnerships with business leaders, like we have here in Kiryat Shmona. What’s happening here in the Galilee is a model that the world can learn from. Precisely at a time of crisis, it’s possible to create significant activities and to produce success stories.”