Jerusalem pulls out red carpet for founders of start-ups from around the world

Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Environmental Protection Ze'ev Elkin tells the 'Post' about Israel's plans to turn Jerusalem into a high-tech hub.

JERUSALEM AFFAIRS Minister Ze’ev Elkin (center) poses with entrepreneurs visiting the city, who were invited after winning local competitions set up by Israeli missions worldwide. (photo credit: COURTESY ELAD BRAMI/JDA)
JERUSALEM AFFAIRS Minister Ze’ev Elkin (center) poses with entrepreneurs visiting the city, who were invited after winning local competitions set up by Israeli missions worldwide.
When you hear “Jerusalem,” what comes to mind? One young Australian start-up founder thought of religious strife and old buildings, before he toured local start-ups and met with Jerusalemite venture capitalists.
“It’s nowhere as old as I thought,” said 22-year-old Lachlan Fitzpatrick, who is creating a gamified math app that allows students to compete with each other and solve problems. “My impression now of Jerusalem is that it’s a very superopen city, that it’s not a stereotypical part of the Middle East. It’s much closer to the Western world than I thought.... The Israeli people are incredible. And it’s something I’ll be taking back to Australia.”
Fitzpatrick, who has raised some A$67,500 in funding, is one of two dozen international start-up founders who toured Jerusalem this week as part of Start JLM to see how the holy city is reinventing itself as a hi-tech hub.
Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) addressed and welcomed the entrepreneurs, who came to the capital from around the world to represent their countries, after winning local competitions held by Israeli diplomatic missions.
“I think that the people who decided to come here, they’ve become a kind of ambassador for Jerusalem. Jerusalem can’t defend itself by itself. You don’t need propaganda to defend Jerusalem. You can only bring the truth. From our point of view, to come to Jerusalem and see with your eyes, the reality is enough,” Elkin told The Jerusalem Post, adding that he hopes the entrepreneurs would now partake in positive hasbara, or public relations, for Israel.
The start-up founders “are not regular people; they’ve won tough competitions. You can be sure that they’ll be someone in their countries. The impact for Jerusalem, in this kind of ambassadors of goodwill, it’s obvious.
The weeklong program hosts international entrepreneurs and introduces them to Jerusalemite venture capitalists from JVP and OurCrowd, where they partake in professional workshops, get guidance and network. Start JLM – organized by the Foreign Ministry, the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry, the Jerusalem Development Authority and Siftech – brings participants to tour Israeli start-up success stories such as Mobileye. The start-up founders were also accompanied by one journalist from each country, with travel expenses paid by the government.
The impetus behind Start JLM is to expand the Jerusalem hi-tech scene and crack the list of the 20 startup ecosystems worldwide for 2017.
Jerusalem instead got an “honorable mention,” according to the list published by Startup Genome, and this time around, it’s likely that this year’s $15.3 billion purchase of Jerusalem-based Mobileye by Intel will catapult the city to the top.
One entrepreneur – who didn’t want to be named – said he enjoyed the trip but questioned why he got a “free lunch.” When Start JLM took participants to the City of David archeological park – located in the Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Silwan – he became skeptical, wondering why he didn’t get the chance to meet with any Israeli Arabs.
Jerusalem is one-third Arab and one-third ultra-Orthodox, meaning that in order to further grow the city’s start-up ecosystem, these constituencies need to be included.
There are more than 600 start-ups in Jerusalem today, a tripling of the number since 2012, according to the Startup Genome report, and investments in Jerusalem-based companies have surpassed the $1b. mark. Other initiatives to expand Jerusalem’s hi-tech ecosystem include developing the hi-tech village in the Givat Ram neighborhood, allowing tech companies to rent individual rooms and quickly expand or contract.
Elkin’s ministry has issued an NIS 800 million strategic plan for the capital to develop its hi-tech and biotech scenes and construct more industrial zones.
One ringing endorsement of his work so far came from MassChallenge – a global nonprofit start-up accelerator that has helped launch more than 1,200 companies – when opened one of its branches in Jerusalem last year. And Rafael Advanced Defense Systems recently opened up an R&D center in the city.
While the Tel Aviv Municipality has invited entrepreneurs from around the world to get acquainted with its world-renowned start-up scene, Jerusalem is now playing catch-up.
“Twenty years or thirty years ago, most possibilities were outside Jerusalem, in Tel Aviv. Now, many young people who come with new ideas are coming to Jerusalem to set up their start-ups here. I’m sure in the next five years, Jerusalem will become one of the leading places in hi-tech [worldwide],” Elkin said.