Google and Israeli website builder Wix.com are teaming up with Atidim, a nonprofit organization, to bring the internet to small and medium-sized businesses in the north and south of Israel that are far from the country’s financial center.
The organizations on Tuesday launched the Digital Starter project, which aims, with the support of the Israeli government and the help of some 250 trained volunteers, to help 10,000 businesses in 44 locations in the country’s north and south set up websites, digitalize their activities, increase their online visibility and use social media platforms.
A survey conducted by Google and Geocartography Knowledge Group in Israel shows that 8 percent of businesses set up in the periphery close every year, and those that survive grow at a rate that is 9% lower than companies that operate in the heart of the country. The 200,000 small businesses in the periphery are 40% less likely to use digital tools for growth than those in the center of the country.
Having a digital presence is a very important factor in helping small and medium-sized businesses grow, the survey showed. Firms with an online presence have a growth rate 24% higher than similar companies that don’t have a presence on the internet. Almost all of the businesses in the periphery are aware of digital tools but see them as too complex to use, the survey showed.
A pilot of the Digital Starter project with 250 businesses in three cities revealed that 65% of the businesses said they continue to use the various digital tools they were shown by the volunteers, and 30% of these said they witnessed a rise in the number of customers.
Atidim already operates a number of projects aimed at convincing students aged 13 to 30 to study sciences and engineering to help close the gap between the center and the periphery. Atidim will provide the volunteer hours for the Digital Starter project, while Google will invest NIS 1 million ($260,000) in the venture and Wix will provide 10,000 premium subscriptions to the participating businesses.
“Israeli high tech is at the forefront of international technology and I am happy it is also coming to the forefront of social action as well,” said Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at the launch of the project at the Google offices in Tel Aviv. “Technology is a central element to the closing of gaps. If we want to connect the periphery to the future, we will do this only through technology.”
An online presence can make even a small company look big on the internet, said Nir Zohar, the president of Wix.