Ashdod, traditionally known as a port and industrial city — and considered a development town not too long ago — has joined Israel’s start-up ecosystem. Gvahim, a Tel Aviv-based non-profit organization that aims to help well-educated and highly skilled new immigrants find quality work in Israel, is winding down the first session of its six-month accelerator program called TheHive in Ashdod.

The program matches new immigrants or returning citizens in early stage development of their start-ups with mentors, and provides them access to Israeli VC’s, office space, interns and networking opportunities to the broader Israeli start-up community.

“The potential contribution of olim to the start-up nation is huge,” says Gvahim Executive Director Dr. Mickael Bensadoun. “The new wave of Aliyah obviously will be a very qualified one, an entrepreneurial one. Many olim come with a dream to create their start-up in Israel. We are here to maximize this potential.”

Just last week, TheHive Tel Aviv kicked off its fourth session in Gvahim’s offices across the street from Tel Aviv University. Among its previous participants are award-winning start-ups such as Parko, PressureMed and Bob from Head up Tribe.

Impressed with TheHive Tel Aviv, representatives from the Ashdod municipality approached Gvahim about expanding to Ashdod, a city with a large immigrant population, mostly from Russia and France. Together with the municipality and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) UK, Gvahim opened its sleek, new Ashdod office last summer, replete with working space, computers, meeting rooms and a balcony overlooking the coast and as far north as Rishon Letzion, thirty kilometers away.

TheHive Ashdod participants speaking with Ashdod mayor Yehiel Lasri at the Gvahim Ashdod office (photo credit: Avi Rokach for Gvahim)

TheHive Ashdod participants speaking with Ashdod mayor Yehiel Lasri at the Gvahim Ashdod office (photo credit: Avi Rokach for Gvahim)

Each team must go through an application process that lasts several weeks. A selection committee accepts between 8-10 start-ups for the program out of dozens that apply. Gvahim does not ask for equity but does charge each team NIS 1,000 per month in order to exact some commitment from the participants.

The 6-month program includes a “pitch night,” where they present their ideas and projects in front of potential investors, and a one-week boot camp at Google Campus in Tel Aviv. Though the program ends officially after six months, the relationships do not, with mentors and program directors keeping tabs on the fortunes of the start-up graduates.

“We are like an airport,” said Tal Kelem, Director of TheHive Ashdod, himself a former entrepreneur who started Israel’s first travel magazine. “We have the best lanes, the best controls. We built the best infrastructure, but you have to fly by yourself.”

Philip Bogrash, TheHive Ashdod participant, explaining his idea to Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Yair Shamir and Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri (photo credit: Avi Rokach for Gvahim)

Philip Bogrash, TheHive Ashdod participant, explaining his idea to Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Yair Shamir and Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri (photo credit: Avi Rokach for Gvahim)

The first Hive Ashdod group included eight start-ups, run by sixteen entrepreneurs from six different countries. One company, Tevatronic Ltd. — started by three olim vatikim (immigrants residing in Israel for over seven years) from Russia and Ukraine who created a 3D irrigation controller — has just secured an initial round of funding.

TheHive Ashdod is now accepting applications for its second class, slated to begin mid next month.

Given the success of the Ashdod project, Bensadoun said that Gvahim has plans to expand into other Israeli cities, hoping to spread the economic benefits of the start-up world more evenly across the country. “I don’t think all the creativity and innovation is only in Tel Aviv. If we feel there are enough olim and returning citizens in the periphery of Israel, it will be fantastic to do that.”