Jerusalem’s startup ecosystem takes off

‘Jerusalem is a city where people did not have a network culture, and suddenly things are happening,’ says one local entrepreneurial activist.

MadeinJLM community manager Roy Munin and cofounder Uriel Shuraki flanking Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

MadeinJLM community manager Roy Munin and cofounder Uriel Shuraki flanking Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“Just two years ago we were starting our first startups in Jerusalem. We felt alone, and we were wondering when we will have saved enough money to move to Tel Aviv. Two years later, the Jerusalem startup scene is booming,” posted Jerusalem entrepreneur Roy Munin on Facebook last May.

“Never before has the city been so proud and supportive of its innovative community. This is the beginning of something big and exciting.”

Indeed, it is difficult to capture a snapshot of the capital city’s startup culture because of its rapid evolution.

According to Made in Jerusalem  (MadeinJLM) — a voluntary umbrella organization for the city’s entrepreneurs, startup service providers and investors – in 2013 there were 60 new Jerusalem startups, compared to 10 in 2012. There were six accelerators/hubs (one in 2012), 80 tech events (10 in 2012) and nine VCs (four in 2012).

Munin is community manager of MadeinJLM, founded in 2012 by Internet entrepreneur Uriel Shuraki and Jerusalem Venture Partners investment associate Hanan Brand.

“When I started at JVP [about three years ago], I would go to Tel Aviv events two or three times a week and find startups, and I asked myself why we didn’t have these things in Jerusalem,” says Brand. “Every startup here thought they were the only ones. It was time to bring them all together.”

Jerusalem is home to more than 300 startups in media, communication, software, life sciences and energy, including recent standouts such as uMoove, ZUtA Labs, AnyClip, OrCam and BriefCam. Last year alone, $110 million of deals were made involving 35 new Jerusalem-based startups.

‘Exciting, crazy, beautiful’

In March 2014, the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) launched “JNext” to promote and support the tech sector. At the kickoff, Danna Hochstein Mann of the OurCrowd equity crowd-funding VC described Jerusalem as a “hotbed of people doing creative, interesting, out-of-the-box kinds of things.”

“What’s happening in Jerusalem is very exciting, crazy and beautiful,” says serial entrepreneur Nadav Lankin, a founder of DevOpsJLM, a multidisciplinary tech-oriented community in Jerusalem.

Lankin, 34, tells ISRAEL21c he was inspired by hearing OurCrowd founder and entrepreneur Jon Medved speak at a MadeinJLM event last summer.

DevOpsJLM’s “IoT Jerusalem” event on June 26, 2014. Photo by Nadav Lankin

DevOpsJLM’s “IoT Jerusalem” event on June 26, 2014. Photo by Nadav Lankin

“I realized I was doing my startups in Tel Aviv, driving 14,000 kilometers per year, and why? Why not bring out a tech community in Jerusalem? It was a trigger for me to open my own community of tech people that could be geeks, scientists, business developers, consultants … everybody’s welcome to share information about the latest trends, hands-on experience, methods, hacks, tools — and meet awesome people.”

DevOpsJLM sponsors ScaleUp, which gives tech expertise to young startups; and a group exploring how IoT (Internet of Things) can power Israeli startups and industry. In mid-October, Lankin plans to host Jerusalem’s first Lean Startup Machine, a global three-day business development workshop currently held in 65 countries.

Buzz in Jerusalem

Many new initiatives are creating a buzz in the capital city.

Shared workspaces/networking hubs are opening here: the Jerusalem Startup Hub-Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation; the Jerusalem Hub; Open Hub in the National Library; Parnassa for the ultra-Orthodox sector, Musrara Community Hub for design, art and software entrepreneurship; and PICO, which is also a gallery for upcoming Israeli artists.

JDA’s BioJerusalem program for the thriving life-sciences cluster has helped Jerusalem surpass the Rehovot-Ness Ziona area as the leading locale for new biomed startups in Israel.

Business accelerators have been formed at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem College of Technology, Azrieli College of Engineering and Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. And the Forum for Young Entrepreneurs in Jerusalem was established by the Jerusalem Center Young Association and the MATI Jerusalem Business Development Center.

Hani Alami, a telecom pioneer in the Arab sector, recently cofounded Jerusalem Entrepreneurs Society and Technology (JEST) and hopes to open the first workspace-accelerator-incubator in East Jerusalem.

She Codes hack night in Jerusalem.

She Codes hack night in Jerusalem.

She Codes (“It’s not your mother’s C++ anymore”), a group promoting female software developers, meets weekly not only in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheva, but also in Jerusalem on Monday evenings. She Codes was started by Ruth Polachek, who in 2008 founded the eClub (entrepreneurship club) at Hebrew University, one of the first of its kind in the city.

The Google Developers Group (GDG JLM) of 184 gamers has been meeting weekly since March at the Hansen Center for Design and Technology “to create and advance the development and design ecosystem in the city.”

Other specialty groups popping up across town include the Haredi Hi-Tech Forum for ultra-Orthodox men and women, the Moshava Startup Breakfast Club in the German Colony area, and a local branch of ImaKadima for career-minded young Israeli moms.

New network culture

Business development consultant Joe Van Zwaren, who helped establish the Jerusalem Business Networking Forum (JBNF) in 2007, looks at all the networking and business groups forming in Jerusalem with great satisfaction.

“Jerusalem is a city where people did not have a network culture, and suddenly things are happening,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “In 2007, people had to go from group to group to make deals and find jobs and investment, because each group specialized in a different population.”

JNext signals that the municipality has at last “recognized this incredible mechanism for generating business,” van Zwaren says. “The JDA has a dynamic young team pushing resources into this.”

Thanks to JNext, he says, business-minded students at Jerusalem’s schools of higher education “have suddenly discovered there are forums to make connections with people they ordinarily wouldn’t know, especially in biotech. The JDA is even starting an internship program for new PhDs and post-docs to get into Jerusalem biomed industry.”

On August 14, JBNF held its inaugural “Doing Business in Jerusalem” conference, at which it bestowed awards on outstanding Jerusalem-based startups BrainswayGlide, Revelator, Freightos and Abe’s Market.

Though he believes much is yet to be done, van Zwaren is more optimistic than ever about Jerusalem’s startup scene, which he long felt was getting marginalized by the higher-profile scene in Tel Aviv.

“I am now seeing an infrastructure to help people with zero funding get launched. It’s a whole new culture that’s been created out of nothing.”

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About Abigail Klein Leichman

Abigail Klein Leichman is a writer and associate editor at ISRAEL21c. Prior to moving to Israel in 2007, she was a specialty writer and copy editor at a daily newspaper in New Jersey and has freelanced for a variety of newspapers and periodicals since 1984.