5 things you didn't know about Israel's smart city efforts

5 Things You Don’t Know About Israel’s Smart Cities, as told by Rhonda S. Binda, Co-Founder of Venture Smarter and Executive Director of the Smart Regions Initiative:

I had the pleasure of joining a delegation of community changemakers from NYC to the “Start-up Nation” earlier this month, hosted by Rabbi Michael S. Miller, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of NY. Home to 6,000+ start-ups, Israel has witnessed a robust pace of growth around inclusive smart cities since my last visit in 2016 with the American Israel Education Foundation, the charitable organization affiliated with AIPAC. Here are a few of the highlights I found most fascinating:

1.    Tsofen - Building Hi Tech in the Arab Society

We hit the ground running right off the plane to visit Tsofen, a non-profit founded ten years ago by Jewish and Arab hi-techies and economists.  Their goal -- develop the hi-tech sector in Arab communities as a catalyst for building a stronger shared society in Israel while addressing a growing shortage of engineers.  Based in the cities of Nazareth and Kafr Qasim, Tsofen is growing hi-tech hubs integrating thousands of Arab engineers into hi-tech firms, helping increase the percentage of Arab engineers employed in Israeli hi-tech from .5% in 2008 to 3.7% today, aiming for a goal of 10% by 2025.

Today in Nazareth leading firms like Microsoft, Broadcom, Alpha Omega and over 40 local companies employ 1,200 hi-tech employees, of which 300 are Arab women, up from a total 30 employees ten years prior. Tsofen operates a start-up accelerator promoting technology-based entrepreneurship in Kafr Qasim and is working in partnership with the municipality to establish a hi-tech park. Other notable partners include the Ministry of Economy and USAID. This unique model builds capacity in programming, hardware development, IT and entrepreneurship, bringing accessibility to the hi-tech ecosystem to cities that were previously left behind in the digital revolution.  

2. Visionary Leadership, Mayor Oded Revivi of Efrat

Mayor Oded Revivi is channeling his boundless energy to making his city smarter, showing how Efrat can lead regionally, nationally and globally. In Efrat he has brought LED lights, is executing on environmental initiatives, and leveraging technology to deliver more social services from senior centers to schools to swimming pools.

In his own words, “The financial situation forces us to constantly be thinking as to how we can do more with less funds. Every initiative that we endorse and incorporate of Smart Cities turns into a financial resource which saves us funds which we can actually afterward allocate for other vital initiatives. By improving the management and bringing more and more initiatives of Smart Cities, we manage to do more with less. We manage to save money and we manage to use the money that we have for other good causes which are just as important.”

3. CITYZOOM - Smart Cities in Israel

Israel, via its Ministries of Economy, Interior and the 'Digital Israel' initiative, is establishing CityZoom as a community aiming to cultivate a local ecosystem that will encourage entrepreneurs to address cities’ challenges around the country.  Working in partnership with Tel Aviv University and the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, CityZoom will incubate new solutions at the hi-tech park in Kiryat Atidim. Starting with an initial assumption that the major roadblock to creating smart cities is a lack of understanding between municipalities and tech companies, as well as Israeli startups' tendency to focus on foreign markets, CityZoom's first year will focus on bringing both sides to the same table, thus creating a platform for mutual projects in selected cities, with an emphasis on the country's periphery.  

Sound familiar? Venture Smarter has been continuing to build an intelligent platform and marketplace dedicated to helping communities connect directly to trusted solutions, resources, partners, and insights. Stakeholders in the Venture Smarter ecosystem, just like the various Israeli initiatives, are helping governments, businesses, and startups, to collaborate more seamlessly to scope, plan, and fund technology projects.

According to Venture Smarter Co-Founder, Mitchell Kominsky, “Venture Smarter’s creation of a digital platform resulted from the desire to advance a new type of collaboration that would enable the smart city ecosystem to thrive and advance city goals.”  

CityZoom starting with ten “experimental cities,” solutions will be piloted throughout Israel and showcased both in-country and abroad. The initiative plans to host an international meeting bringing together smart city experts to participate in CityZoom in spring 2019.

4. Jerusalem? Yes, Jerusalem

New Spirit is a 5 year old movement of young adults in Jerusalem trying to counter the braindrain of young creative talent fleeing Jerusalem to return the city to its former height of innovation and inspiration. While Jerusalem boasts the top schools for art, architecture and design, it needed a revolution of this kind to reverse the perennial waves of young talent from leaving the city upon graduation. We visited the widely successful New Spirit co-working space for creatives that inspired the opening of several more to come tailored to specific industries from law to technology and even culturally based, soon popping up all over the city.

The shared spaces have brought more commerce and activity to the surrounding neighborhoods, breathing newfound vibrancy into this ancient city. In cooperation with the local municipality, businesses, and thousands of inspired young adults, they have risen-up to lead a creative revolution, ensuring that the city of Jerusalem will be a strong and leading cultural and economic center, as befits the nation’s capital.

5. Technion Institute @ Cornell Tech NYC

In partnership with Cornell Tech, the Jacobs-Technion Institute has brought a piece of Israel’s start-up magic to New York fostering hi-tech innovation in New York and beyond. When Technion was first approached to apply, President Lavie did not believe they had a chance to win, so they shot for the stars. In the end, their out of the box application won out and Israel’s Technion is now an integral part of the growing technology ecosystem in NYC housed on the brand-new Roosevelt Island campus.

Mr. Miller aptly sums up, “What we witnessed in Israel is not merely a “Start-up Nation” but a country carrying technology to new, innovative and “smart” application in its cities both very old and very new. The Israeli people are using their most plentiful natural resource, their brain power, to fuel advancements in multiple disciplines to ensure a brighter tomorrow for future generations in their own country and for the benefit of all people spanning the globe.” With these exciting developments unfolding, Venture Smarter and the Smart Regions Initiative are sure to keep you abreast of Israel’s comprehensive approach to smart cities.  

To learn more about Venture Smarter and the inaugural Smart Regions Conference, please visit: smartregions.org/conference.

Ms. Binda serves on AIPAC’s National Council. Learn more about the about the author on Linkedin.