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Israel techies seek to boost startup action in the north

The Hula Valley community is a grassroots movement that aims to offer an alternative tech center to Tel Aviv

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

Gray Cranes at the Agamon Hula Lake in the Hula valley in northern Israel, November 16, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
Gray Cranes at the Agamon Hula Lake in the Hula valley in northern Israel, November 16, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

A group of Israeli techies in the north of the country has decided to band together to lure investors, tech firms and entrepreneurs out of Tel Aviv toward the lush green north, which they say is full of untapped opportunities and talent.

The leaders of the initiative have founded an innovation, entrepreneurship and technology community called the Hula Valley – Community of Entrepreneurs in the Eastern Galilee, named for the Hula Valley agricultural region in the north and a play on California’s Silicon Valley.

“When I started a startup in 2014, I needed to go to Tel Aviv three days a week, by bus or by car, but mainly by bus,” because that is where all of the investors and mentors were, recalled Yaal Loven, 33, one of the founders of the initiative and a native of She’ar Yeshuv in the Upper Galilee.

Loven eventually realized that he would have to move to Tel Aviv if he wanted to to give his startup a chance. Instead, he decided that what he actually had to do was bring some of that Tel Aviv action to the north.

Yaal Loven, a co-founder of the Hula Valley community of techies who want to develop the startup ecosystem in the north (Courtesy)

That could only be done, he said, if investors and other firms and R&D centers could be attracted away from Tel Aviv through the power of numbers.

So Hula Valley has been lining up 30  or so local startups and entrepreneurs each time investors and mentors come to visit. Each startup by itself does not have enough pull — but a bunch together can do the trick, he said.

Over the past 1.5 years the Hula Valley community has been working under the radar to spread the word and has already helped over 40 startups in the field of agri-tech, cybersecurity and food technologies to get funding, mentorships and networking opportunities, Loven said.

The project aims to provide a socioeconomic solution to the problem that all the peripheral areas in Israel have: a huge shortage of jobs in general and quality jobs in particular.

To address this problem, the founders, including Almog Angel and Ohad Horenstein, have created a tech community based on volunteers from the region, who work together to help startups grow and assist technological companies from other areas in Israel and abroad in setting up development centers locally. Theyalso attempt to bring tech entrepreneurs and other tech workers to relocate to the north with the promise of cool air, lower costs and higher quality of life.

Today the Hulla Valley community’s 600-plus members organize monthly meetups in which startups present their technologies to investors and other parties, and a variety of other events.

On January 10 the community will be holding its Nortech 2019 conference, which will bring together entrepreneurs, investors, researchers and community leaders to explore business opportunities and collaborations in the region. The event will be in collaboration with local authorities and the Israel Innovation Authority.

Oded Menuhin, a foreign affairs analyst and business administrator at Denmark’s medical device firm Spirofriend.com and a member of the Hula Valley community (Courtesy

Danish firm Spirofriend.com, which has developed a medical device to monitor lung function, is planning to set up an R&D center in the Galilee region, said Oded Menuhin, the chief operating officer at the firm, who is also a member of the Hula Valley community.

A company delegation will be visiting from Denmark this week to find partners and investors for the development of sensors for the company’s products, he said.

The Hula Valley community can provide the firm with the “envelope” of talent and network it will need to set up locally, said Menuhin, who is from Kibbutz Gevim in Israel.

The initiative is grassroots, Hula Valley’s Loven said, rather than a government initiative. “People on the ground are making the change.”

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