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To mark Jerusalem Day, ancient city’s ‘unique’ tech scene is celebrated in video

Start-Up Nation Central and Jerusalem partners showcase entrepreneurs and social initiatives in the city, home to 350 startups

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

Jewish men pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City on the eve of Jerusalem Day, May 09, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jewish men pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City on the eve of Jerusalem Day, May 09, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

To mark Jerusalem Day, a national holiday on which Israel celebrates the reunification of East and West Jerusalem 54 years ago, a coalition of nonprofit organizations and government agencies has created a series of videos that highlight the “unique technological ecosystem” that developed over the years in the capital of Israel.

The videos highlight some of the entrepreneurs and the ventures that operate in the city, underlining how Jerusalem’s cultural diversity and the sense of community that permeate one of the oldest cities in the world also help make it the home of cutting-edge self-driving technology, biotechnology and multinational R&D centers.

The initiative was set up by Start-Up Nation Central, a nonprofit organization that seeks to boost the nation’s tech ecosystem, which teamed up with the Jerusalem Foundation, Jerusalem Development Authority, and the Ministry for Jerusalem and Heritage.

Celebrations of Jerusalem Day this year have been marred by major clashes at the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, as police closed it to Jewish visitors amid clashes between law enforcement and Palestinian rioters inside the site considered holy by both Jews and Muslims.

Wendy Singer, executive director of Start-Up Nation Central (Miri Davidovitz)

“Jerusalem’s tech sector has grown dramatically in the past decade,” said Wendy Singer, executive director of Start-Up Nation Central, in a statement.

According to data compiled by Start-Up Nation Central and the Jerusalem Development Authority, there are some 350 startups operating in the city today, up from 200 in 2012 but down from 405 last year, as many early-stage companies shut down during the pandemic. These startups operate in the fields of digital health, pharmaceuticals and software, as well as in the industrial, cybersecurity and clean technology sectors.

The ecosystem also hosts mammoth companies like Mobileye, a maker of self-driving technologies that was acquired by Intel Corp. in 2017 for a whopping $15.3 billion; OrCam, a maker of a wearable AI-based device to help people with impaired vision see; and Lightricks, a maker of photo and video editing apps. Both OrCam and Lightricks are today valued at over $1 billion.

The city is also home to 22 multinational corporations that have set up R&D centers, including G&E, Intel and Cisco; 24 investment funds; and 11 academic institutions, the data shows.

A car drives past the offices of Israeli car tech firm Mobileye in Jerusalem on March 13, 2017 (AFP/Thomas Coex)

Jerusalem boasts 136 companies in the life sciences and biotech fields. Startups developing AI-based technologies surged to 82 from 30 in 2015.

The flourishing of the city’s tech scene “proves there are ecosystems developed beyond Israel’s center that can prosper, and serve as part of the economic growth in Israel’s periphery,” said Singer. Most startups are today concentrated in Israel’s central region, in and around Tel Aviv.

Several factors have helped the innovation culture thrive in Jerusalem, Singer said.

The city’s diverse population, both secular and religious, Jews and Arabs, men and women, Israeli-born and new immigrants, creates a fertile ground for creativity. This is strengthened by the presence of academic institutions like the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Bezalel Academy for Arts and Design, which create a multidisciplinary mix of talent and knowledge.

In addition, an informal coalition of government agencies, nonprofit organizations like Start-Up Nation Central, and academic players are committed to support and strengthen the local tech sector, creating initiatives to foster collaboration and creativity, Singer said.

The videos

The videos focus on some of the companies, entrepreneurs and social initiatives that operate in the city.

In a video on biotech and life-sciences, entrepreneur Ronen Segal, the chief technology officer of Alpha Tau Medical, talks of how after he served in technology units of the Israeli army, he decided to bring the knowledge he gained in optic communication systems and wireless video technologies to the civilian field.

Segal joined his longtime friend Uzi Sofer, the CEO and founder of Alpha Tau Medical, in his quest to use nuclear energy to try and cure cancer.

Shai Melcer, the CEO of BIOHOUSE, talks about how his organization connects entrepreneurs, physicians, investors and industry players and enables startups to operate in fully equipped R&D facilities that are located in medical centers.

The “RehabTech” video features Yaron Segal, the founder of BrainQ, a Jerusalem-based startup that aims to reduce disabilities caused by stroke and neurological disorders. Segal explains how the idea for the technology started 20 years ago when Segal’s son Lear was born with a rare neurological disorder affecting the development of his autonomous nervous system, leaving him disabled and in need of a wheelchair.

“As a father and as a physicist, I was not ready to accept the fact that Lear and others like him would not have a cure for his disorder,” says Segal. So he set out to develop a technology that would encourage brain recovery. The hat-like device he has created aims to treat damaged areas of the brain with electromagnetic waves, or artificial brainwaves, that mimic healthy neural networks, to rebalance the brain and restore it to its normal function.

A pilot trial of 25 stroke patients treated with the artificial intelligence-based electromagnetic therapy has shown “striking” results in reducing disability following a stroke, the company said in March.

In the same video, Dr. Maurit Beeri, director general of the ALYN Hospital, speaks about how the children’s rehab hospital seeks to “level the playing field” in a bid to give everyone access to any space – thus making the word disabled “no longer relevant.” The hospital uses technology and its innovation center and a biomechanical lab to create tailor-made gadgets to meet the specific needs of each patient.

“I do not believe in impossibilities,” says Beeri in the video. Children have unimaginable potential to overcome limitations, she says.

One video, titled “Industry Reimagined,” showcases initiatives that operate in the city’s Talpiot industrial area.

Elie Wurtman, the founder of PICO, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur, speaks about the venture capital fund he has set up along with a social enterprise called PICO Kids that provides job skills to Jerusalem youth.

Wurtman set up PICO in the Talpiot industrial area of Jerusalem in a bid to bring together “creative people, entrepreneurs and the vibrant community of Jerusalem,” he says.

Aharon Horwitz, the CEO and the co-founder of AutoLeadStar, talks about the digital platform that helps car dealers mimic the way they sell cars in the real world, but online; it was developed amid the old car-servicing garages in Talpiot but is helping impact the motor industry in the US.

Horwitz is also the co-founder of PresenTense, an organization that has built an ecosystem to foster social initiatives that aim to bring diverse, sidelined communities to the ranks of Israel’s booming tech sector.

“When I walk outside of my office and I see a man speaking Yiddish, or encounter an Arabic speaker, the colors, the faiths, the chance – it is this complexity of the City of Jerusalem that drives creativity,” says Wurtman in the video.

The “ArtTech” video showcases Smadar Tsook, the founder of Jerusalem Art Map, which allows users to experience the Jerusalem art cultural scene virtually, and helps “connect people.”

Neta Meisels, the co-founder and general director of Hamiffal, a creative shared space in Jerusalem, run by and for the community, speaks about how for “culture to remain relevant, it must be innovative and interact with people.”

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