Jerusalem in Transformation: Entrepreneurship in the Eternal City
JNS.org – Braving the wind, rain, and even snow in Jerusalem, I attended last week’s OurCrowd 2016 Global Investor Summit along with 2,000 others, representing more than 50 countries. The summit featured investors, venture and corporate partners, entrepreneurs, and global delegations who OurCrowd said came to “celebrate our collective drive for innovation.”
As such, the event appropriately took place in Jerusalem, the city that OurCrowd referred to as the “heart of start-up nation.”
For those familiar with Israel’s start-up scene, you might be surprised to hear that Jerusalem is now being called the “heart” of the start-up scene, apparently trumping Tel Aviv. But be surprised no more — Jerusalem’s start-up ecosystem is officially one of the biggest players in the global start-up scene, topping Entrepreneur Magazine’s list of five great emerging tech hubs in the world.
Jerusalem is in a period of transformation, no longer the place you go just to pray at the Western Wall and behold its ancient history. Between 2012 and 2013 alone, entrepreneurship increased sixfold. Jerusalem is brimming with art schools, start-ups, nightlife and bars, and young and creative people.
What’s driving this change? Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, for one. An entrepreneur himself, Barkat has done an amazing job of facilitating a renaissance in Jerusalem based on companies and universities. His programs have encouraged job creation through economic growth and marketing guidance and helped found the Israel Venture Network to promote venture capital investment in social initiatives throughout Jerusalem.
Another explanation for the entrepreneurial spirit of Jerusalem becomes clear when you step into the streets of Jerusalem — people from all around the globe meet here, making it a natural place to “go global.” It is quite easy to seek international partnerships — the diverse crowd both fuels the engine and enjoys the opportunity.
Third, I would argue that the transformation has something to do with Jewish and Israeli culture. As the capitol and heart of the Jewish world, Jerusalem is the paragon of Jewish and Israeli culture. It is a Jewish value to be a light unto the nations — in other words, we try to actualize and lead the change we wish to see. There is a stereotype that Jews like to complain — perhaps this stereotype arose because we are always thinking of ways to make things better. And after all, this is exactly the outlook of an entrepreneur: they see things as they could be and actualize a plan to narrow the gap between dream and reality.
Israeli culture is quite similar — Israelis (both the people and the government) feel the responsibility to act. Israelis do not sit back when they see something that could improve. They act, speak up (or scream…), and do whatever it takes to make things better. They tend to do what they know is right without seeking affirmation from others. This is also the paradigm of a leader, making Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, a place brimming with potential leaders.
From my five-month stay here in 2013 until today, as an immigrant to Israel, I have seen and felt the trend towards entrepreneurship in Jerusalem. More start-ups and organizations have been initiated than I even know about. Now, everyone seems to be part of some organization or company that is transforming the city into a dynamic and cultural hub. It is commonplace for new immigrants to settle into start-up and high-tech jobs that are based in Jerusalem. Every night, there is something going on here, whether it’s a networking happy hour, art showcase, business lecture, or an intriguing social event for young people.
I’ve always identified with the entrepreneurial type, which I believe to be synonymous with the Israeli type and the Jerusalemite. As my life and work continue to unfold in a city of up-and-coming change agents and entrepreneurs, I feel fortunate to take part in Jerusalem’s visible and inspiring transformation.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.