Where it all started
Anyone from the outside looking in at the high tech scene in the Negev cannot help but be impressed with the growing involvement of young Israelis in the changes taking place in the area. In order to understand where it all started, I am sitting at CDI Negev with Yotam Tzuker, for a talk about the Tech7 Innovation Community. A few months after the successful SilicoNegev startup competition finals event, and just before the Beer-Sheva startup day, Yotam speaks about how young people are getting involved and how in a persistent and quiet manner they are making a difference.
In August 2014, the first building in Gav-Yam Negev hi-tech park was already populated by some major hi-tech companies. JVP Cyber Labs, one of the first companies in the park, decided to call on people and get them interested in Beer-Sheva by hosting a Kick-Start your Startup event.
“That evening was a great success. However, it was not enough! We felt more events of this kind are necessary to bring the major changes anticipated in Beer-Sheva. A need arose for a strong community of people involved in hi-tech, innovation and entrepreneurship to continue with similar activities. A few members of BGU Starter Student Club, including myself, joined forces with Pnina Ben-Ami from JVP, Maya Hofman-Levy from EMC and set about doing it. We decided to get people involved with yet another big event.” Yotam recalls.
In January 2015, Tech7 Hosts Dr. Danny Gold, the man behind the Iron Dome; this event marked the beginning of Tech7 Community.
Yotam, currently a project manager at CDI and Aviv Avital, a principal software engineer at RSA, were there from day one and are actually the founders of the community. Coming from Starter, the student innovation club, they added value to the two big companies’ idea, bringing their young spirit, energy and drive to the initiative. Tech7 was their own kind of startup.
Ever since that successful evening in 2015, Yotam, Aviv and their Tech7 colleagues have hosted numerous big events with major figures in the industry and the technology innovation world. Just to name a few: Uri Levine (founder of Waze), Moshe Hogeg (Serial investor), Tal Morgenstern (Sequoia Capital Investor) and most recently, Adam Singolda founder of Taboola. These people offer their experience, good advice, but mainly inspiration for those who want to commence their journey in the innovation and startup world.
The enthusiastic Tech7 team figured that inspiration was not enough. They took it upon themselves to create an umbrella organization for entrepreneurship and innovation in the south. As such, they sought to create synergy between the different players by hosting more informative and educational events in collaboration with the bigger companies and organizations. Some milestone events in the first year included: Big Data – From Zero to Hero; Innovate2Educate- Beersheva Hackathon; Calling all startups: Join the Global Innovation Awards in the Negev.
In no time, Tech7 became the center point responsible for creating the buzz around the technological events and goings on in the South. As such it drew many students and early career young adults to join the team and help make it happen. One of them is Alon Naftali, who joined a year after the founding of Tech7 and took a leading role as Community Manager. Alon recalls: “As a student of economics and business admin. at BGU, I spent my internship at WeWork Beer-Sheva. Tech7 was based there and I followed their activity closely. Talking with Yotam got me interested and excited. The rest is history. It’s quite rare to have a moment in one’s life where you have the opportunity to join and be part of a flourishing entrepreneurial community in a town that is undergoing a major change like Be’er Sheva. As an undergraduate, I was involved in the processes and the events that influenced and shaped the local high-tech scene and the entire town. The magic of Be’er Sheva, the support of all the organizations in the eco-system and the hunger for success of the people involved, make me enjoy every minute of the positive steps we are taking with Tech7“.
As more and more people showed interest and gained value from the big events, the time was ripe to create a more intimate feeling of a community and direct the events to its needs. March Marketing & Media (2016 ) was the first step; that month a series of events were dedicated to PR and marketing in the startup world. Meet the Community was a new line of events launched in mid-2016 and is still held today. In these meetups, community members meet in an informal manner to get to know each other, collaborate and give advice and support for local startups. “In these events we got to know the people behind the startups and decided to take a further step in advancing the community“, Yotam recalls, “this is how The Map project began“. The Map is a listing of the startup companies in the Negev that eventually became the Southern Startup Report created by the Tech7 team. Michael Kalantarov, who was one of the attendees in the first meetup, joined the small team and took over the project as the Community Relations Manager.
The adult community was thriving but it was not enough either, and Tech7 decided to take the youth of Beer-Sheva under its wings. Gal Hever, a graduate student at BGU, became the leader of Tech7Juniors a year ago. She recalls: “I came to Tech7 at Yotam, my class mate’s request. The idea of developing the Negev on a technological level seemed attractive and I knew I could help. I stayed because I enjoyed it. I felt I was contributing, influencing, making a difference and adding value by developing a new aspect of our activity and it felt very fulfilling. I learned about myself that I could take an enterprise from scratch, lead it and hopefully allow it go on without me. I loved being on board at the earliest stages, the ability to change, build and create the environment that supports it.” With a clear vision and hard work Gal managed to organize dozens of activities for local youth like workshops, lectures, courses etc. hosted by Tech7 Juniors. The second year of Juniors begins without Gal, but with a teen community, a committed team and the support and sponsorship of CJA and the Beer-Sheva municipality.
As is now readily apparent, Tech7 is made up of a small team of activists that believe in the future of the Negev, and believe that the Negev is the future of Israel. These enthusiastic people act like the pioneers who first settled in the Negev, fully aware of the difficulties, and yet persistent in their endeavor to be the first and lead the way. Neta Ran Kestenberg (Marketing manager) and Niv Nuttman (Events team) are great examples. They both joined the team as interns of The Next Thing program for students, and both admit that now that they have finished their studies, their involvement with Tech7 is one of the major factors in their decision to stay in Beer-Sheva. Yael Mathov, a Software Engineer at EMC, summarizes her year of activity as events manager in Tech7, and reveals the motivation behind it: “I spent a year of events management with some amazing people. Come and join the events team, to help the Negev grow, to meet great people and bring figures like Uri Levine and Adam Singolda to the south.” Daniel Einhorn, a local entrepreneur who grew up in the Negev, heeded the call and replaced Yael. “I discovered Tech7 as a starting entrepreneur, hungry for the knowledge the organization gives away. It is a great privilege to be able to supply these events today as an event manager.”
Showcasing the Local Scene
Yotam once again: “Having created a local community, it was time to showcase the Negev startup scene. We were proud to take part in TheMarker Economy and Society Convention 2016 (in Beer-Sheva) by running the Tech7 Startup Arena, a speed dating event between local startups and major investors who attended the convention. This was a great way to end up our second year of activity. We felt that we were on the right track and got even more motivated to continue our endeavors to create a thriving community and help evolve the startup and innovation ecosystem in the Negev.”
Coming back to the major event SilicoNegev about a year ago, Tech7 caught the attention of yet another group of people that care about the Negev. MATA (The Center for Future Technology in the Negev) led by Gideon Shavit chose Tech7 as an information channel for their future investment. This is how SilicoNegev competition started where Tech7 is the facilitator and MATA makes the investment.
Tech7 also aims to be at the center of the startup scene by pointing people in the right direction. Innovators, entrepreneurs, technology oriented people and youngsters taking their first steps in the job market and yes, investors too, need a place to meet, stay updated and cooperate. Beer-Sheva Startup Day does exactly that. It brings together in one arena investors and startups in a speed-dating event. It is a great opportunity for startups to meet and impress several potential investors who come to them! It is also a chance for the start-ups to meet experts in different fields (business, marketing, law and patents etc), and acquire the know-how and knowledge they have for free. Any startup taking part in this day leaves with a treasure trove full of advice and knowledge, and hopefully some money as well.
Its been a “hot” summer for the Tech7 community. A new line of technological courses and workshops were offered to the community managed by Omri Attia, and major events like the 2nd Tech7 Unconference took place. However, the highlight of this summer was the overseas road tour of members of the Tech7 team and community. They met with Jewish Organizations in Canada and the USA in order to showcase and proudly represent the Beer-Sheva hi-tech scene, the ecosystem and the vibrant Tech7 community.
Final words from Yotam:
For me, Tech7 is a platform to change, create and make sure that the startup, technology and local entrepreneurship scene will grow and become an integral part of the change that is going on throughout the region. Thanks to Tech7 I got to know all the most important leaders and significant figures responsible for this great change in Southern Israel. In addition to this, I got to know dozens of entrepreneurs who work in some very special places and locations, proving that entrepreneurship can happen anywhere. I find it inspirational.
After our recent visit with the North American Jewish Organizations, we feel that the sky is the limit. With our current team, we are prepared better than ever to bring on the change with more initiatives and programs, turning our dreams into reality. What a great way to start the new year. Shana Tova!