MassChallenge accelerator comes to Jerusalem, eyeing 100 startups in 2 years

The company vows to help promising start-ups find their footing through providing them with office space and mentorship programs and other valuable resources to succeed.

Masschallenge meeting with Jerusalem representatives. (photo credit: CHANAN BAR ASULIN)
Masschallenge meeting with Jerusalem representatives.
(photo credit: CHANAN BAR ASULIN)
Boston-based accelerator MassChallenge opened its doors in Jerusalem Monday evening, with a goal of supporting 100 startups within its first two years.
The company, which proudly refers to itself as the “most startup-friendly accelerator,” vows to help promising startups find their footing through providing them with office space, mentorship programs and other valuable resources to succeed. Winning applicants are awarded with cash and grants with no equity.
In MassChallenge’s five-year lifespan, its alumni have raised over $1.1 billion and created more than 6,500 jobs.
The inclement weather, strong winds and freezing rain didn’t deter 700 movers and shakers in the hi-tech world and 17 promising Israeli start - ups from turning out to celebrate MassChallenge’s first foray into the global market.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat boasted that the city has 3,000 years of investment under its belt. He recalled visiting the fledgling Boston-based company prior to its launch in 2010 and telling CEO and founder John Harthorne that bringing MassChallenge to Jerusalem was a must.
“I saw the premises and the philosophy, and I learned how you operate, and I realized Jerusalem should be one of your sites,” he told the audience at the city’s First Station.
The accelerator’s decision to park in Jerusalem instead of Tel Aviv is a coup for Barkat and the Jerusalem Development Authority, the government-backed agency that has been working in recent years to make the ancient city friendly to hi-tech startups.
“ until 2012, Jerusalem had something like 12 startups a year,” JDA’s head of business development Itzik Ozer told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview. “After we put out the initiative, that year we had more than 120 startups in Jerusalem.”
The goal is to double that, and a series of tax incentives, hubs, subsidized co-working spaces and now the advent of MassChallenge are part of the plan.
As far as the potential for innovation in the city is concerned, Harthorne’s and Barkat’s visions are aligned.
“It was our goal from Mass - Challenge’s earliest days to open an accelerator in Israel, and today it becomes a reality,” Harthorne said.
“The Jerusalem accelerator will support startups from across Israel and across the globe,” he said, “and will bring together the best mentors, leaders and resources of the Israeli innovation ecosystem – all to support the success of our start - ups.”
Israel Ganot, the managing director of MassChallenge Israel, said: “Israel has so much to offer high-impact startups: a multibillion-dollar tech ecosystem, hundreds of multina - tional corporations, abundant partnership opportunities and deep technical expertise across sectors such as cybersecurity, IoT, fintech, food, water and agrotech, medical devices, eHealth, neurosciences and so much more.
“Our program brings all of these elements together in the City of Jerusalem, which is emerging as a hub for startups and an ideal environment for their growth.”
Ganot said he hopes to attract all of Israel’s sectors to join this venture, including “seculars [sic], haredim, Arabs, Bedouin and new immigrants.”
“The numbers really speak for themselves,” said Helen Wexler, the hi-tech and entrepreneurship project manager for JNext, the hi-tech branch of the Jerusalem Development Authority. Jerusalem has sky - rocketed from $59 million dollars in investment in 2012 to a whopping $243m. in 2015, she said. Moreover, the city now holds roughly 350 tech-related events, ranging from massive networking opportunities such as MassChallenge to smaller-scale hackathons and conferences.
When Danna Mann of PICO Venture Partners and the evening’s emcee joked that the MassChallenge launch event Monday night was probably the “only packed house in Jeru salem” and that the rest of the city spent the evening home keeping warm under their blankets, she probably was not far off. The speeches of the night concluded with a bang – or gong – to be precise. After their remarks, the speakers assembled on the main stage at First Station’s The Hanger venue as Robin Thicke’s “Blurred lines” blasted in the background and attendees continued to visit the open bar and eagerly exchange business cards