Monday, May 23rd | 22 Iyyar 5782

February 15, 2016 1:05 pm

First ‘Startup Nation’ School for Israeli-Arab Entrepreneurs to Open in Kafr Qasim

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

An example of Israel's 'Silicon Wadi.' The Matam high-tech park in Haifa. Photo: Wikipedia.

An example of Israel’s ‘Silicon Wadi.’ The Matam high-tech park in Haifa. Photo: Wikipedia.

The first school for Arab high-tech entrepreneurs in Israel is set to open later this month in Kafr Qasim, an Arab city northeast of Tel Aviv, the Israeli business news site Globes reported.

Hans Shakur, who manages community engagement projects for Tsofen, an Arab-Jewish organization that aims to promote the integration of Arab Israelis in the high-tech industry, told Globes that the school was created following a US government venture — the US-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) — tasked with finding entrepreneurs in six Middle Eastern countries who could help create workplaces. In Israel, the fund sought innovative minds in the Arab sector.

The project in Israel, called TRI/O Tech, is expected to cost more than $2 million over the next three years, according to Globes. MEPI will provide a majority of the funding, with help from Tsofen and the MIT Enterprise Forum (MIT EF). The school, which opens on Feb. 23, is currently interviewing entrepreneurs from across Israel and 15-20 students are expected to be in each class.

Shakur said the idea behind opening a school for Israeli-Arabs was simply to make the entrepreneurial world “more accessible to the Arab community [and] to assure that people do not have to get to Tel Aviv to enjoy the services provided to high-tech entrepreneurs.” He said the lag in high-tech in the Arab sector is not due to a shortage of talent, but with a “lack of exposure to current trends,” such as knowing what matters to investors.

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“The major difference with a Tel Aviv accelerator is the networking. There aren’t enough opportunities for that in our sector,” Shakur noted. “Our goal is to bring people together and create connections. In Israel, it is expressed through meet-ups of Arab Israelis with colleagues and entrepreneurs in the high-tech world.”

He added, “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.”

Shakur said there is an effort to develop similar innovation schools in Beersheva and Jerusalem.

MIT EF Executive Director Ayla Matalon told Globes that there is a “local advantage” to opening an innovation school in Kafr Qasim because the city has a great industrial zone and its mayor, Adel Badir, is very supportive of startups. He said the Kafr Qasim school is looking for those with “a passion for entrepreneurship and of course excellence.”

“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,” he added.

Most of the entrepreneurs interviewed so far are around the age of 30 and a majority of them, if not all, work or have been working in high-tech. The course will last 3.5 to four months and will be offered five times in the next three years. It is free to the student entrepreneurs, but will require “extensive resources,” Shakur said. He told Globes the only type of payment entrepreneurs will give will be through hard work.

Tsofen co-CEO Paz Hirschmann said the goal of the project within the next three years is to have companies working in Kafr Qasim and to have high-tech firms established in the city.

Shakur told Globes that data revealed a pool of more than 1,500 individuals across Israel with expertise in the high-tech industry, with most of them working in companies such as Apple, Amdocs and Microsoft.

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