A Tech Tour Trip through Startup Nation’s Next Big Thing
By: Aaron Scheer
When you think of Israel, three cities typically come to mind: Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa. Outside of Israel’s central triangle of major metropolitan hubs are a handful of cities often overlooked by the outside world. However, in the heart of the Negev Desert lies Be’er Sheva, whose former reputation as a rest stop on the way to Eilat, is quickly becoming that of a major player in the future landscape of Israel’s booming technological economy.
Although it’s known as the Negev’s capital, Be’er Sheva feels much like a mid-size city in West Texas: arid, but not too humid, and surrounded by the natural beauty of desert hills and vast open space offering a solution to the overcrowding of Israel’s center. It is here that Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF) has partnered with the local municipality and businesses to invest in the hi-tech industry that is changing the face of the Negev. Recently, JNF’s inaugural Tech Tour visited and saw firsthand some of the region’s hi-tech start-ups and industry leaders, and the jobs they are creating in their wake.
“In the Negev you have 8% of the population living in some 60% of the land,” said Dale Danilewitz, Tech Tour co-chair from Philadelphia, while sitting in the board room at Deutsche Telekom Innovation Labs Israel. “We have a need to develop this region because Be’er Sheva is one of the fastest growing cities in the country.”
Indeed, the modern Hi-Tech Park, conveniently located adjacent to Ben Gurion University and the Be’er Sheva Train Station, rivals the creative design of Silicon Valley.
“Technology is rapidly growing, to the point where the resource needs are outstripping the supply,” explained Danilewitz. “So, you’re looking for places that have that supply and rather than go to India or China, why not invest in Israel to tap into and develop some of those knowledge-based offshore resources,” he added.
Be’er Sheva’s growing economy is in part due to the synergy between various agencies and organizations, including Jewish National Fund. “At JNF we raise more than $100 million per year, but our partnerships account for well over $500 million annually,” said Marina Furman, JNF’s executive director for Greater Philadelphia. “By leveraging relationships, such as our partnership with the city of Be’er Sheva, we act as a catalyst for sustainable growth throughout the entire region, bringing jobs, new residents, and increased economic stability where that was seriously lacking only a decade ago.”
In 2007, JNF invested in the development of the new Be’er Sheva River Park in what was a long forgotten district of a stagnant city. Today, the Be’er Sheva River Park spans over eight kilometers and is nearly three times the size of Central Park. A 22 ½ acre man-made lake will soon be completed, headlining sold-out concerts are held at the 12,000-seat outdoor amphitheater, and a new vibrancy and interest in the future of the region, fueled through the growth of cyber-tech and start-up companies, is evident in every corner of the city. Additionally, JNF’s work with the Lauder Employment Center places thousands with new jobs each year at companies like HP, PayPal, and CISCO Israel.
For the participants on JNF’s Tech Tour, ‘seeing is believing.’ Jewish National Fund has thoroughly demonstrated that in order to create tangible and lasting change, its donors have made a smart investment in this growing city destined to change Israel’s future for the better