Tel Aviv bids to become the next Silicon Valley

May 28, 2013
tel aviv photo
Young people work in the municipal library in the Tel Aviv's Shalom Tower. (Ruth Eglash/Washington Post)

TEL AVIV -- President Obama once called Tel Aviv the home of the “future world economy," and with good reason. It's already trying to become the first city of its size with free WiFi, and there are also efforts underway to bring a "start-up visa" to Israel. Now the city is making a push to promote its start-up culture.

Tel Aviv currently boasts more than 700 early-stage start-ups and some 1,200 high-tech firms -- and the number is constantly growing. Last December, Startup Genome, a benchmarking tool for small businesses, ranked the city the second-most entrepreneurial hotspot worldwide, following California’s Silicon Valley.

“We wanted to be based in a place near where we live and to be central enough to attract talented people to work with us,” says Nissim Lehyani, co-founder of one such start-up, Easy Social Shop, an e-commerce platform that enables online shopping outlets to easily transfer their data to a Facebook store.

He chose to locate his company’s office on the city’s central and historic Rothschild Boulevard, which according to Avner Warner, head of international economic development for the municipality’s Tel Aviv Global City initiative, is the “start-up street, in the start-up capital of the start-up nation.”

tel aviv map
A map of start-ups in central Tel Aviv. (Credit: Tel Aviv Municipality)

To be clear, Tel Aviv's start-up streak is nothing new. Israel is well-known for its tech industry; one 2010 book dubbed Israel the "start-up nation." But the nature of that technology is changing -- as are, boosters hope, the people making it.

“At the moment most founders of local start-ups are Israeli,” says Warner, pointing out that as Israel moves from developing hardware technology to the web and mobile sector, there is room for more diversity. The goal is now to encourage “foreign entrepreneurs” to join the local ecosystem, he says.

Not far from Rothschild Boulevard, in the local landmark Shalom Tower – Israel’s first high-rise building – the city’s public library has been transformed into a start-up hub aimed at nourishing new ideas and technology from the myriad of young minds that have flooded Tel Aviv over the last decade. It’s a cooperative space, with a sweeping view of the Tel Aviv coastline, in which fledgling companies can apply to use space for a short period of time and for a very low fee. Here small companies share ideas and pool resources until they get their first batch of funding.

In a small meeting room in the tower’s library on Monday, Mayor Huldai described his city’s growing technology hub as a modern-day “kibbutz in the city,” likening the industry to the once popular communal agriculture and lifestyle model that helped establish the state more than 65 years ago.

 

Ruth Eglash is a reporter for The Washington Post based in Jerusalem. She was formerly a reporter and senior editor at the Jerusalem Post and freelanced for international media.
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