Arab Israelis well placed in technology

Despite difficulties, Israel's Arab sector is charging ahead to success in business and technological enterprises.

arab computer 88 (photo credit:)
arab computer 88
(photo credit: )
Despite difficulties, Israel's Arab sector is charging ahead to success in business and technological enterprises. "[Israel's] Arab public is thirsty for technology, and ready to open up to this field," said Tamim Yassin, CEO of Obek Gaz and a hi-tech investor, at the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development's conference in Herzliya on Tuesday. "The Arab population [in Israel] is a potential population not only for consumerism in the simple meaning of the term, but also as consumers of technology, telecommunications, and other advanced areas," added panelist Ayman Samara, CEO of Samara Marketing Communication. In fact, the Arab sector experienced a surge in entrepreneurial activity in recent years, said the center's chairman, Eytan Biderman. At the heart of Israeli hi-tech, some 7% of Intel's hi-tech workers in the country - 500 of 6,600 engineers - are Arab, "a relatively high number," said Nabil Sakhran, himself an employee of the company. "Many of the Arab engineers are among the technological leaders in the company, and are in senior managerial positions," he said. "Technology breaches borders of nationality, religion, and state." Nazareth-based incubator New Generation Technologies (NGT), with projects including a host of biotech and health product ventures aimed at improving the lives of both humans and animals, was launched in 2002 as "the first Arab-Jewish joint hi-tech venture in Israel, and perhaps in the world," said CEO Sharon Dvir. The group's board of directors and senior staff are predominately Israeli Arabs. According to Dvir, Arabs constitute around 35% of potential start-up developers who contact NGT, while the rest are Jewish Israelis. While some investors provide NGT with capital because of its mixed character, he said others see an investment as purely "good business," despite estimated four- to-six year waits for yields. Dvir and others present at the conference stressed that problems faced by start-ups in the Arab sector include a lack of managers with proven experience in technological companies and a lack of networking and personal connections within Israel's financial institutions, which makes capital raising difficult. "Arab integration into Israeli society will come firstly through the private market and joint entrepreneurship," said Yassin, who also is an investor in and treasurer of NGT. He boasted that "the incubator today is a player on the international business field. From almost the whole world there is interest in us." There is significantly less interest in NGT among Arab countries, however, torpedoing efforts to recruit partners for regional cooperation. Dvir noted that both Palestinian and Jordanian contacts have conditioned any joint venture on complete secrecy. A Dubai-based fund, meanwhile, backed out due to concerns about Israel's high transparency standards, he added. The conference was funded by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Abraham Fund.