Jerusalem: Eyeing up a Future of Innovation, Growth and Prosperity

Jerusalem: Eyeing up a Future of Innovation, Growth and Prosperity
February 1, 2016 Graham White

Today, I got a quick glimpse into Jerusalem’s growth and innovation strategy from the city’s Mayor, Nir Barkat. But he’s no ordinary public servant. He was himself a serial entrepreneur.

Barkat started his career in the hi-tech industry by founding a software company called BRM in 1988, which specialised in antivirus software. Later the company became an incubator venture firm that invested in several companies such as Check Point and Backweb. He later helped found the social investment company IVN. In 2007, Barkat took part in the Israeli version of Dragons’ Den.

Having made his fortune in software, Barkat entered politics in January 2003 when he founded the party Yerushalayim Tatzli’ah (“Jerusalem Will Succeed”) and ran in the Jerusalem mayoral race. However, he only gained 43% of the vote and lost to Uri Lupoliansky. Instead, he had to settle on being the head of the opposition on the city council until the 2008 election, when he ran again. This time he won and today he’s in his third term.

In that time his party’s strategy has been on trying to promote high-scale tourism, encourage major social projects, and provide the right ecosystem for healthcare and technology innovation. A strategy that appears to be working as Jerusalem is now creating 120 new startups each year.

Barkat’s 2020 vision is to have created an ecosystem where people want to come and stay in Jerusalem, where businesses around the world will locate operations and host conferences, and where multi nationals will continue to drop R&D operations. But to be successful, more human capital is needed. The good news on that front is that Hebrew University is one of the top ten campuses in the world, and student growth is running at 10-15% each year.  This influx of more students is key to the city’s growth, because many are now opting to stay after they’ve graduated. The net return of attracting and retaining a broad cross section of smart and creative people, mixed with local business and continued government support, is resulting in growth and prosperity.

So it should be no surprise that the largest ever US IPO to come from Israel is in Jerusalem – Mobileye, whose headquarters I had the privilege of visiting.

Mobileye is the undisputed global leader in the development of vision and data analysis for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems and autonomous driving. Their technology is keeping passengers safer on the roads, reducing the risks of traffic accidents, saving lives and is very likely to revolutionise our driving experience by enabling autonomous driving.

The secret sauce in their technology is proprietary software algorithms and EyeQ chips, which perform detailed interpretations of the visual field in order to anticipate possible collisions with other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, animals, debris and other obstacles. But if that wasn’t enough Mobileye’s products are also able to detect roadway markings such as lanes, road boundaries, barriers and similar items, as well as identify and read traffic signs and traffic lights.

If you’re not using their technology you will be soon as the products are or will be integrated into car models from 23 global automakers including BMW, Ford, General Motors, Nissan and Volvo.

But why stop there!

The company has created a new business called OrCam. OrCam is harnessing the power of artificial vision to assist people who are visually impaired. It does this through a discreet wearable camera that clips to glasses providing the user with an audio of text they are looking at.

During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.

As such, you have to admire its achievements in both innovation and entrepreneurship. Whilst Jerusalem may be one of the oldest cities in the world, the technology coming out of its office buildings is some of the newest in the world.

Whether it’s one eye on the road or one eye on a document for the visually impaired, what is certain is Mayor Birkat understands the ingredients needed to ensure its future prosperity and growth.

Over the next two days Jerusalem is hosting OurCrowd’s global investor summit. Some 3,000 investors, entrepreneurs, corporate partners and venture capitalists from over 50 countries will descend upon the National Convention Centre.

The theme of the conference is “investing in the future.” Six major multinational corporations – Honda, Coca-Cola Company, Samsung Ventures, Philips, Intuit, GE – will each provide a preview of their future plans for innovation, together with scores of startup companies in the key areas of mobility/transportation, corporate innovation, health, cyber security, IoT, and mobile communications.

OurCrowd CEO Jon Medved said, “While most eyes are on stock market retreats on Wall Street and global markets, we are proud that we’re hosting in Jerusalem a glimpse of a much brighter investor future. Israel’s technology sector is setting new records and continues to boom. We are delighted that we have so many investors joining us to build the next generation of Israeli tech giants.”

There is no doubt that Modern Jerusalem is growing far beyond the Old City’s boundaries.