A new innovation school that will soon feature a startup accelerator will launch today in Kafr Qasim northeast of Tel Aviv. The Arab sector has long been underrepresented in high-tech industries, but the problem is more widespread.
“When you talk about high-tech among Arab Israelis the problem is not with lack of talent, but their lack of exposure to current trends,” said Hans Shakur, who manages community engagement projects for Tsofen, an Arab-Jewish organization promoting the integration of Arab Israelis in the high-tech industry.
Speaking to “Globes”, Shakur said the school was established following a US government venture, which employed MEPI to seek out entrepreneurs in six Middle Eastern countries in order to create workplaces. In Israel, the fund looked to the Arab sector. MEPI is the primary funder of the project in Israel, slated to cost NIS 9 million over three years.
MEPI is joined by Tsofen and the MIT Enterprise Forum in backing the venture.
MIT EF executive director Ayla Matalon said, “The venture is called TRI/O Tech. The MIT forum has been working from the Graduate School of Business Administration at Tel Aviv University, and it has been accompanying the growth of the Startup Nation since 1994; long before people heard of startups, we were already providing counsel in the field. The forum has a number of active, familiar faces in the Israeli high-tech scene, including Martin Gerstel, Dr. Ed Mlavsky, and Yanki Margalit. We will be guiding the students in the new school.”
Shakur: “MEPI has many programs in the Middle East to promote engagement, democracy, and entrepreneurship to create a dialogue. Our goal is to bring people together and create connections. There is no political agenda just meetings. In Israel, it is expressed through meet-ups of Arab Israelis with colleagues and entrepreneurs in the high-tech world. We aim to establish a center for high-tech industries that will attract companies, create jobs, and most importantly the entrepreneurship school and the accelerator will bring in entrepreneurs who will turn their projects into startups and eventually stable companies.”
Is there a need to separate Arabs and Jews?
Shakur: “On one hand, the term ‘accelerator’ was unknown to Arab entrepreneurs until two years ago. The plans started in Nazareth until we realized the extent of the need. We have no issue with diversity at Kafr Qasim. The idea was simply to make the entrepreneurial world more accessible to the Arab community, to assure that people do not have to get to Tel Aviv to enjoy the services provided to high-tech entrepreneurs. At the same time, we are working to develop this in Beersheva and Jerusalem as well.”
Matalon: “Studies show that when girls study together in high school without competing with the boys their scores are higher than in mixed classrooms. There is an advantage to competing with Arab entrepreneurs. But as it turns out, we interviewed entrepreneurs this week and almost all were working in mixed high-tech firms.”
Shakur: “Some of the entrepreneurs and this is fact-based are trying to develop startups targeting the Arab community specifically or Arab countries in general. There are nuances that require careful attention. The average accelerator has no clue what is happening beyond our border.”
Matalon: “There is a local advantage because Kafr Qasim has an excellent industrial zone and a mayor, Adel Badir, who is very open to startups.”
What has already been done?
Matalon: “Hans, together with Tsofen, led the effort to reach out to entrepreneurs to come for interviews. We are launching the school on February 23 focusing on high-tech and expecting 15-20 students per class. We are currently interviewing impressive candidates from across Israel.”
“So far we have interviewed only two women. I am already accustomed to women representing only 5%-10% of participants.”
What are the admissions requirements?
Matalon: “We are looking for a passion for entrepreneurship and of course excellence. Successful entrepreneurs generally succeeded in their previous ventures.”
Shakur: “Most of the people we interviewed were around 30 years old, from across the country, but with an emphasis on the Triangle. Most, if not all, work or have been working in high-tech. We were surprised at the data there is a pool of more than 1,500 talented people, mostly working in companies like Apple, Amdocs, Microsoft, and startups. We see the whole rainbow.”
Matalon: “At the school, they will receive a tool set, they will learn the language of entrepreneurship and what they can do to assure their idea can be monetized.”
Shakur: “Essentially, this is a pre-accelerator. The problem in the Arab sector is not with the talent, but in their exposure to current trends. What is interesting? What matters to investors? The major difference with a Tel Aviv accelerator is the networking. There aren’t enough opportunities for that in our sector. Let’s just say they didn’t eat from the same mess tin as graduates of (IDF) Unit 8200.”
What do successful candidates have to give in return?
Matalon: “The course will last 3.5 to four months and will be offered five times in the next three years. It is free to entrepreneurs but it will require extensive resources. The payment will be through hard work.”
Tsofen co-CEO Paz Hirschmann: “The accelerator and the school are part of a comprehensive effort by Tsofen and the Kafr Qasim municipality. We are also active in Nazareth; we want to replicate the Nazareth model, which included attracting new companies to the city, spurred by a government decision to encourage its entrepreneurship. Our goal within three years of the project is to have companies working in the city and to have high-tech firms established here.”
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on February 10, 2016
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