Israel earmarks NIS 2.5 million to make cities smarter

Startup Nation wants to draw entrepreneurs to use technology to meet the challenges facing cities in and out of Israel

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

As far as the eye can see: the Tel Aviv view from the Azrieli observatory (photo: Courtesy)
As far as the eye can see: the Tel Aviv view from the Azrieli observatory (photo: Courtesy)

A new government initiative will allocate some NIS 2.5 million ($689,000) to a national program to help make cities in Israel and around the world smarter.

The program, called CITYZOOM — Smart cities in Israel, aims to create a local ecosystem that will encourage entrepreneurs to address the problems that haunt cities, from cybersecurity threats to traffic jams and smart parking. At the center of the program will be a database that will match local authorities with startups and companies that have technologies that can address their issues.

The database will include issues experienced by other cities, including Chicago, London, New York and Barcelona, a statement announcing the initiative said.

The program will aim to boost the number of startups whose technology can help run cities, for example those operating in the fields of big data, WiFi infrastructure, cybersecurity, search-and-rescue technologies, smart parking, services for residents and senior citizens, and precision agriculture for city spaces.

Israel has not reached its potential in technologies that can help create smart cities, the backers of the initiative — including the Economy and Industry Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the Social Equality Ministry — said in the statement.

The reason for this is the large number (255) of small local authorities, which each deal with multiple government ministries, making it difficult to implement a long-term municipal policy. Tech entrepreneurs are deterred by the bureaucracy.

“We are a small economy and all of the technologies we develop turn to foreign markets,” said Barak Goldstein, who will be the co-CEO of the CITYZOOM initiative. “We want to encourage entrepreneurs to implement their technologies in Israel first” and to use local authorities as their beta sites.

The initiative will be open to whoever wants to take part, he said. Setting up an local ecosystem for the creation of smart cities tech — which will include generating a buzz around the subject through events along with the database — will help make the challenge more attractive to entrepreneurs, he said.

The program will be launched Tuesday at an event in Tel Aviv attended by local mayors and members of the tech industry.

A starting point for tech solutions

“Many times officials at local authorities don’t even have an idea where to start” when they have a problem, Goldstein said. The database will give them a starting point.

The program aims to encourage local authorities to introduce startups to their ongoing work, and carry out pilots to test out their new products. Local entrepreneurs will be encouraged to embed their technologies in Israel before they set out to the global market. Multinationals will be encouraged to participate in the effort as well.

The initiative will seek to set up an inter-university academic research forum, led by Tel Aviv University, to encourage researchers to engage in urban solutions.

It also envisages the creation of “experimental cities” with an emphasis on Israel’s peripheral towns.

In addition, the initiative will hold an international conference on smart cities in March 2019 in Israel, with speakers from around the world.

CITYZOOM is a “unique initiative” that for the first times combines government bodies, academia and tech companies to create a “vibrant climate for smart cities in Israel,” the statement said.

“The next stage of the digital revolution is beginning to be realized in the local authorities in Israel and abroad,” Minister of Social Equality Gila Gamliel said in the statement.

Tel Aviv University, Kiryat Atidim in Tel Aviv and the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation are also behind the project.

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