"Four years ago, when only the cornerstone of the Gav-Yam Negev Advanced Technologies Park Beersheva had been laid, the phrase 'Beersheva startup' was an oxymoron," says Ben Gurion University of the Negev graduate Alon Naftali, community manager of Tech7, which is dedicated to promoting the entrepreneurship scene in Beersheva and the south as a whole. "Today, several years later, we see that there are over 40 companies and 1,800 employees in the high-tech park, most of them from the area, and a growing and active entrepreneurship scene, together with the growing number of companies."
Figures provided to "Globes" by Tech7 show that while the numbers in the south are not close to the figures to which we have become accustomed in Tel Aviv and the surrounding area, there is nevertheless impressive growth in the number of entrepreneurs who have decided to settle in Beersheva and the surrounding area. The southern community says that there are 111 startups, of which no fewer than 50 were founded in 2016, an increase of 85% over 2015.
"Globes": What do you think caused the such a substantial increase in 2016?
Naftali: "Last year, what we saw was the maturing of a number of simultaneous processes that have made Beersheva and the southern communities a focus for widespread high-tech and entrepreneurship activity. The Beersheva municipality initiated innovation and entrepreneurship projects, and several incubators, accelerators, and entrepreneurship programs have recently begun in the south," Naftali says. "All of the important parties are contributing. The municipality is supportive, strong higher educational institutions are training over 8,000 engineering graduates a year, and there are leading technology companies on an international level. Adding to this the plan for moving IDF bases southward and the improvement in transportation infrastructure, we get a city with growth potential among the highest in the world."
Naftali and the Future Technologies Center (FTC), which promotes technologies in the south, are jointly behind SilicoNegev competition, which promises an investment of up to NIS 500,000 for the winning venture. It is an exception in the Israeli entrepreneurial ecosystem, because it is open only to entrepreneurs from the south. The competition's initial selection event will take place on Wednesday in Beersheva, with 20 ventures representing developments striving to reach the next stage of the competition and compete for the top spot in front of industry leaders. They will be seeking funding to help them make their idea a reality.
Beer Sheva - Really a cyber capital?
The Gav-Yam Park was established as a cyber park, although it now contains companies in all aspects of technological endeavor. Is the city's location specifically attracting cyber security entrepreneurs? Tech7 figures show that this is not necessarily the case. Only 18 companies, making up 20% of all the active startups in Beer Sheva, are cyber companies. Other strong sectors are software, medical devices and digital medicine, agro-tech, etc.
To conclude, do the entrepreneurs prefer the Beer Sheva municipal scenery, or the fields of anemones in the surrounding communities?
"In a study we conducted," Naftali says, "we were surprised to find teams located in all sorts of interesting places, both in the city and outside it. These included rental housing for students, a Turkish-style building in the old city of Beersheva, and groups who chose to work in cooperative and collective settlements, far from the crowded city. In general, most (62%) of the teams are located in Beersheva, but we saw a fair number in Yeruham, Lehavim, Omer, and many other small communities."
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on March 19, 2017
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