A new Arab-Israeli innovation hub has joined the Tel Aviv high-tech landscape.
The TRI/O Tech advanced high-tech entrepreneurial hub in Kafr Kassem, about 12 miles east of Tel Aviv, includes a startup accelerator and the first Arab-Israeli school of entrepreneurship.
TRI/O Tech is a joint venture of Tsofen, an Arab-Israeli integration non-profit, and MIT Enterprise Forum of Israel, the Israeli chapter of the global non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the growth and success of high-tech entrepreneurial ventures. The initiative – expected to cost $23 million over three years – is primarily supported by the US-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) of the U.S. State Department.
“The whole operation in this hub is focused on integrating Israeli Arabs into Israeli high-tech, making the entrepreneurial world more accessible to the Arab community, creating jobs for Arabs in their towns so they do not need to travel to Tel Aviv or Haifa for work, and at the same time fostering and encouraging entrepreneurship through the school and accelerator,” said Tsofen project manager Hans Shakur.
Taking a cue from Nazareth’s flourishing high-tech center, Kafr Kassem hopes to lure more high-tech companies to its Lev Haaretz Industrial Zone that would then employ more local talent from the Triangle area of Israeli Arab towns in the eastern Sharon plain.
“TRI/O Tech will encourage young entrepreneurs, bring businesses and create badly needed jobs for the area and create an entrepreneurial ecosystem for the Triangle,” U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said at the opening ceremony on February 10.
“Once we have successful models of Nazareth and Kafr Kassem, within a few months we’ll see other cities or towns wanting to duplicate this experience of building high-tech in their towns. And this will accelerate by itself. The Arab mayors know of the economic miracle of the startup and high-tech nation and all of them want to be part of it,” Shakur said.
Classes for the first cycle at the TRI/O Tech School of Entrepreneurship will begin on Tuesday. The school will offer three-and-a-half month-long courses five times in the coming three years. The school will take students out into the field and put them in touch with Israeli companies and entrepreneurs. At the same time, guest lectures by entrepreneurs, investors and specialists in IT will bring knowhow into the classroom. “There are at least five other Arab-Israeli accelerators but this is the first tech school of entrepreneurship for the Arab-Israeli community,” said MIT Enterprise Forum of Israel executive director Ayla Matalon. She added that it is important to offer Arab Israelis entrepreneurial lessons in their home community.
“We are going out of our way because we believe they can make it and it’s a step forward for all of us. We understand the potential,” she said. “The second thing is a lot of these companies will market to the global Arab market. They need to learn the special aspects of the Arab world, what the trends and challenges are, what has been done and what could be done.”
Moreover, Matalon said, it’s crucial to tailor a program for the Arab-Israeli high-tech community.
“We know that when you take girls and put them in a STEM class without boys, you’ll see their grades are much better than if they’re part of a girls and boys class,” she said. “So, sometimes taking a minority group and letting it work within its own group, you get better results.”
It makes sense that Kafr Kassem was chosen for this first-ever school of innovation: It has a growing industrial zone and its mayor, Adel Badir, is eager to build an Arab-Israeli startup community. Tsofen relocated its High Technology Centers in Tira to Kafr Kassem because of Badir’s shared vision to replicate Tsofen’s Nazareth model of attracting high-tech companies to the city. “Bringing the entrepreneurs and starting this accelerator and entrepreneurial school is part of a wider program led by the municipality to bring high-tech to Kafr Kassem. It is a cornerstone to create an ecosystem in Kafr Kassem, as was done in Nazareth,” said Tsofen co-CEO Paz Hirschmann.
Hirschmann said that the change in the Arab entrepreneurial scene has been “dramatic in the past three to four years. You see it in the number of Arab students in STEM at universities. The numbers grew in the last two years by 30 percent.”
“At any given time there’s a shortage of engineers for the high-tech industry,” said Shakur. “If leaders of the industry in Israel are saying that right now we have a shortage of 5,000 engineers, in two years we’ll need 10,000 engineers. The Arab society has a large pool of talent and we are working hard to get the most out of it and to get jobs in high-tech industry.”
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