Nazareth tech scene to get programmers boost

UK’s Founders & Coders sets up program in Nazareth to support economic development and boost tech integration

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

Founders & Coders first group of students in Nazareth (Courtesy)
Founders & Coders first group of students in Nazareth (Courtesy)

The first Founders & Coders program launched out of the UK has been set up in the Israeli city of Nazareth, in an effort to support the economic development of the city and lead to better integration of the Arab community into the Israeli high-tech industry.

Founders & Coders is a London-based nonprofit organization that offers extensive but quick coding courses for people without tech backgrounds, who then gain the tools to take part in the local tech industry. The new program in Nazareth was launched this week in partnership with the British Embassy’s UK Israel Tech Hub.

“There are so many jobs in high tech that are not being filled,” said Dan Sofer, who founded the organization three years ago, in a phone interview. Sofer has thus far witnessed the graduation of 150 students in the UK. “We get people jobs and this is one way of solving the tech gap and getting people into work.”

Nazareth is the nonprofit’s first center outside of the UK. The city in the Galilee region was chosen because “the Galilee is close to a lot of opportunities but also far from a lot of the opportunities,” Sofer said. “We are all about bridging the gap in tech and education. Nazareth is an interesting place to take that model and make it successful in Israel.”

Founders & Coders first group of students in Nazareth (Courtesy)
Founders & Coders’ first group of students in Nazareth (Courtesy)

In the 16-week coding boot camp, students from varied backgrounds and not necessarily holding tech degrees will learn how to study full stack development and work on social impact projects to benefit both the Arab population and the broader society. Twelve students have been selected for the first Israeli program: six Israelis, five British students and one Canadian student.

Shireen Zoaby, 23, who graduated from the Founder & Coders course in London, will be a mentor for two weeks in the Nazareth course. “It was an amazing experience, I learned so much in 16 weeks,” she said. A resident of Nazareth, she is now back in her city as a mentor. “I wanted to do for my community,” she said, “help as much as I can.”

Students who finish the course will be integrated into the workforce as full stack web developers. Courses will run three times a year, beginning in February, June, and October.

“We are not just targeting one population, but making it available to everyone who want to develop as individuals,” Sofer said. “You just have to be over 18. There is no upper age limit.”

Tapping into untapped populations

Since 2012, the Israeli government has set up a number of programs to help Israeli Arabs integrate into the labor market and the high-tech industry, in an effort to boost economic growth and reduce inequality. Just 5.7% of Israeli Arabs are employed in the high-tech industry and only 2% of those are employed in research and development, according to Israel’s Innovation Authority 2016 report.

Israel’s high-tech industry, which has been a major growth engine for the economy, is facing an acute shortage of skilled workers, something experts say could be resolved by tapping into the Arab and ultra-Orthodox populations, which are still at the sidelines of the high-tech boon.

Cities like Nazareth are already showing signs of change. Today it hosts some 20 high-tech companies, including both startups and larger firms like Amdocs, Broadcom and Microsoft that have set up R&D centers in what is known as the Arab capital of Startup Nation.

The UK Israel Tech Hub, which operates from the British Embassy in Tel Aviv and aims to build tech partnerships between the two countries, puts an emphasis on entrepreneurship in the Arab community in Israel, said Dona Haj, the head of the UK office who was in Israel for the launch of the Founders & Coders initiative.

British Ambassador David Quarrey speaks at Founders & Coders launch event on Feb. 21, 2017 (Courtesy)
British Ambassador David Quarrey speaks at Founders & Coders launch event on Feb. 21, 2017 (Courtesy)

“We see a real untapped potential there for fantastic business ideas and amazing entrepreneurs that can benefit a lot from working with British companies and vice versa,” said Haj.

For the past four years, the UK Israel Tech Hub has been running a series of programs and projects to accelerate Arab tech talent in Israel by partnering with UK workshops, delegations to the UK, and networking events.

“One of the challenges that we have identified with working with the Arab tech community is the lack of exposure to international business and professional environment which created a gap in skills needed to scale up globally,” Haj said. “And that’s the main incentive for our support to Founders & Coders — we wanted to bring a cosmopolitan experience to Nazareth’s Tech scene.”

At the end of the course, the graduates will get their first jobs. The UK Israel Tech Hub and the British Embassy will be giving Founders & Coders a grant to pay the students salaries to design and build a digital library in Arabic and English that will aim to become a comprehensive database of startups from the Arab community and also be a source of knowledge for anyone who is interested in learning about the sector. CK CK

We see Nazareth as our first stop and want to replicate this model to other Arab towns,” Haj said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to get more Jewish and international students and mentors to join our journey.”

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