by Jon Adessky*
How does an otherwise remote desert town morph into a vibrant high-tech ecosystem with tremendous growth potential? It is exactly this question that I endeavored to answer while working in the Gav-Yam Negev tech park. While there are surely several possible explanations for the Be’er Sheva success story, at least one is the ecosystem’s human capital component. The development and flow of human talent that runs through the veins of Be’er Sheva is composed of optimally situated key players. In this short piece, I will draw attention to each, pointing out how it operates within the human capital system. It is interesting to note how Tech7 plays an instrumental role at the very beginning and end of the flow.
Tech7 Juniors (source?)
The human capital flow begins with a rare opportunity for teenagers to be part of the hi-tech and cyber scene in the technological park. Tech7 Juniors offers these youngsters workshops and courses in coding, cyber security and more. It also allows them to meet with local innovators and entrepreneurs and to become leaders by peer-to-peer teaching. Aside from appealing to the curious minds of young individuals, the creation of community leaders ignites a spark of determination and commitment to building the local ecosystem. It is an important achievement in Be’er Sheva: the human capital flow begins earlier on in life as youth are engaged even before military service and university education.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is a key player in virtually all aspects of Israeli life. With mandatory military service being part of every Israeli’s reality, the IDF is arguably one of the most entrenched players in the human capital flow – an inescapable phase through which all must pass. To optimize the IDF’s value contribution to any human capital flow, any given ecosystem in Israel would seek to be proximate to the more specialized units – those that have the highest intellect requirements.
If one were to audit Be’er Sheva’s human capital chain, a big, green checkmark would appear by the IDF. As Sarah Viva Press puts it, “the biggest step toward making Beersheva a true cyber-tech hub is the upcoming transfer of the IDF’s technology units out of Greater Tel Aviv.” These units, including Unit 8200, are comprised of some of the nation’s brightest minds. Relocating to the area is a remarkable development, as the units will be stationed in close proximity to the high-tech park. What does this mean in terms of impact on the overall human capital flow? At least one implication is that these soldiers become prime recruitment candidates for Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) as a logical post-military service step.
As Dennis Mitzner of TechCrunch puts it, “the nearby Ben Gurion University is pumping out skilled labor for multinational companies next door.” Naturally, we ought to dig deeper to uncover the reasons behind the university’s success in funneling in individuals after their military service, training them in specialized programs, and ‘pumping them out’ to the high-tech ecosystem. What key ingredients enable BGU to succeed in its aforementioned role in the human capital flow?
The core of any university’s success, presumably, is how its course offering melds with the ambitions of prospective students. I will take cyber security as my main example for that is the leading segment of the ecosystem. For those interested in the field, the university offers an M.Sc. track in that field. The university is also committed to research in the field with the Cyber Security Research Center. In terms of academics, BGU appears to be prima facie attractive for those interested in a cyber security career – an appealing alternative for those finishing their military service in that field just minutes away from BGU.
To truly attract prospective students, academic programs ought to be in touch with reality in that they serve to further the individual’s future career opportunities. BGU strives to connect students with MNCs operating in the region, making itself a more valuable educative option. The partnership with PayPal, being one example. The broader implication of collaborating with the ecosystem’s MNCs is ensuring that the university is fully integrated into the human capital flow. BGU can recruit stronger students more easily as it enhances employment prospects, strengthening its human capital inflow from the military. The university’s human capital outflow is also enhanced as MNCs turn to BGU for recruitment.
BGU also aims to create an inflow aside from the post-military stream by forming ties with the international academic community, the partnership with Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) is a good example. The ecosystem becomes stronger and is enhanced as the pool of BGU graduates increases in size, and diversified streams feeding into the pool provide varied aspects of critical thinking. This tends to encourage “out-of-the-box” thought thus promoting innovative ideas, while discouraging “groupthink”..
What comes after university?
Tech7 community initiatives
What to do with this talented pool of human intellect? Not to say that the ecosystem would cease to function without Tech7’s community leadership, but we can say that it would not function as well. As Accenture reports, 75% of surveyed business executives acknowledge that success will not be driven by standalone firm success, but by overall ecosystem and partner strength. Tech7 acts to bring the various players in the ecosystem to work together in a collaborative manner. This ensures that human capital is employed in an efficient manner.
Tech7 hosts tech and entrepreneurship events that bring all community members together. The aim is to establish an environment that is conducive to cohesion. An example of an initiative that truly furthered this objective was this year’s SilicoNegev tech competition, where regional start-ups competed for a 500,000 NIS investment. Aside from the grand prize, the initiative served to bring community members together. Students eagerly attended, to become better acquainted with the local tech scene. Reps from the powerhouse MNCs operating in the tech park were present, mingling with students and entrepreneurs alike. BGU academics were present and were able to communicate with MNCs. When everyone talks to everyone, there is a true flow of human capital – one where each player knows of the other’s contribution and role.
The Key Takeaway
So, to try to shine a light on how an otherwise isolated town can turn into a happening tech scene, we can observe the human capital flow – a key ingredient in building an optimally configured synthetic ecosystem. What is unique about Be’er Sheva is that the ecosystem players did not just randomly enter the scene on a standalone basis, but in a highly integrated fashion. Communication preceded entry. This led to coordination, collaboration and, ultimately, synergy. It is the willingness to work together that helped create a smooth human capital flow. And the notion of working together is exactly what Tech7 aims to further. Tech7 is the ingredient that spices up Be’er Sheva ecosystem turning it to a lively and vibrant one.
* Jon Adessky is a student at McGill University, Montreal. He spent 2 months in Israel in the spring of 2017 through Onward Israel and worked with Tech7 and CDI Negev. This is his 2nd post giving his insight into the hi-tech scene in Be’er-Sheva.