Luring low- and high-tech to the Negev

In a tribute to founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, two former IDF colonels have set up an incubator designed to draw businesses down South.

Negev 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Negev 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In a tribute to Israel’s founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who made the Negev his home and dreamed of making the desert bloom, two former Israeli army colonels founded Green Group in the Negev town of Yeroham last year.
Envisioned as a technology incubator for a range of start-ups designed to provide employment and services to the area and increase its population, Green Group has drawn interest and about $5 million in investment pledges from private investors.
In June, Green Group hosted meetings with potential high-tech and low-tech enterprises including cleantech and biotech companies. “The idea is to have 10 selected startup projects,” IT director Yossi Treistman says. “I’m in charge of examining all the portfolios to determine which ones will get funds from us or will come to work in our headquarters.” The nascent company, comprised of less than a dozen employees, is putting the finishing touches on an office building that stood empty for several years after its construction – a testament to the difficult business environment in Yeroham.
The town of about 9,000 residents is enjoying a modest renaissance under former Haifa Mayor Amram Mitzna. Green Group intends to further Yeroham’s fortunes by capitalizing on the IDF’s plan to move its scattered training bases to one super-sized Negev Training Base City including residential zones.
“The government is requiring that a certain amount of the services provided must be in the south, so we are planning many building projects, such as boutique hotels and 50 houses for IDF personnel to rent,” says Treistman. “We will also be helping local businesses meet the needs of the IDF base.” One of the planned projects is a big laundromat.
According to Treistman, laundry from an existing Negev officers training base is currently washed in a northeast Jerusalem industrial suburb, and some supplies are trucked down from as far north as Haifa.
Opening doors to new opportunities, Green Group’s co-founders Yoram Moyal and Ronny Marom are investing their personal as well as their professional resources in the Negev. “They could have built the company in Tel Aviv, but they believe the goal of our generation is to develop the Negev and they both live down here with their families,” says Treistman. Their experience underlines the sparseness of the south; it took Moyal more than a year to find a house.
Both men come with experience in military training. Moyal – who was Treistman’s commander – headed a training base for the Intelligence Corps, while Marom was head of a training course in the use of guided weapons. They are using their contacts in Negev businesses to recruit future instructors for Training Base City in order to realize local staffing goals for the project.
Green Group business development manager Nir Hindi says that 40 percent of students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev are studying technical subjects, but 95% of all students who complete their studies at BGU move to central Israel. The company aims to reverse that trend by creating and supporting regional opportunities.
“Sometimes you just need to open doors, because people here don’t realize what they are capable of doing,” Treistman concludes.