Tel Aviv has quickly become one of the most successful startup ecosystems in the world, recently listed as the fifth best startup ecosystem globally, and the number one ecosystem outside of the United States. This relatively young, nonstop city has become a breeding ground for countless successful businesses and a thriving startup ecosystem.
As CEO and founder of Tel Aviv Global, a city-run company whose goal is to turn Tel Aviv into a global hot spot for innovation, I have made building this ecosystem and empowering the entrepreneurs who work within it my top priority. Here are some of the key initiatives we have implemented to cultivate the ecosystem and encourage innovation to take root.
Break out the data
Data is the lifeblood of so many new startups. Municipalities accrue a huge amount of data, to the point that we often aren’t able to process it; but we should still collect it. The cost of sharing this data to programmers and local entrepreneurs is so small but can lead to impressive startups being created. For example, we opened up our transportation databases to the public in the framework of a competition to come up with innovative solutions to traffic issues. We were and continue to be impressed by the solutions and startups that have come off the back of that simple step of sharing our data. This is something any city around the world can implement in order to provide fodder for startups and potentially drive innovative solutions to municipal problems.
Cooperate and collaborate
While competition can be a huge spur for innovation and success, in Tel Aviv we’ve found that often the opposite can be just as true. We’ve tried to enable a city-wide atmosphere of collaboration and cooperation by building three city-funded coworking spaces where entrepreneurs can feed off each other’s energy and ideas. And we’ve seen the ecosystem respond – with a 138 percent growth in accelerators, coworking spaces, and innovation centers over the last three years. The value of fostering cooperation rather than competition lies not only in conversation and idea sharing but, more importantly, in the creation of stronger networks of entrepreneurs who want to help each other. Ultimately, individual entrepreneurs looking to help each other out will lead to faster growth and more success for the overall ecosystem.
City life, while beneficial and exciting in many ways, often comes with a price. High rents or even something like a lack of easy parking can act as a deterrent to entrepreneurs looking to set up businesses in a particular location, while the high cost of living can prevent young talent from settling in a city.
In order to combat this problem, Tel Aviv offers various municipal tax reductions to entrepreneurs and startups looking to open up shop – such as a reduction of taxes on certain offices. In addition, the city has pursued several initiatives to make city life attractive to young people, from city-wide free WiFi to a bike sharing system and regular free cultural events. Making it easier and more comfortable for young people to live in the city hub is critical, since young talent is the lifeblood of innovation and growth.
In order to further the growth of any ecosystem, it is important to have a diverse range of ideas, cultures, backgrounds, and experiences to broaden the scope of potential startups and to create a more fruitful ecosystem. One major hurdle we are trying to overcome currently in Tel Aviv is that 98 percent of the workers in the startup sector are Israeli. This is in comparison to Silicon Valley, where 50 percent of the startup population are foreigners.
Our response to this has been to start city-to-city collaborations with places like Berlin, London, Paris, and New York, where entrepreneurs from one city will be empowered to work and conduct business in another participating city. Entrepreneurs using this initiative will be able to get a free desk at a coworking space, a mentor from the community, and even get connected to startup companies from their fields – which are resources any city could make available to visiting entrepreneurs. Another effective initiative to consider is a special “startup visa,” which can help to encourage foreign talent to move to your city and work there.
Ultimately, our greatest success in Tel Aviv has come from our commitment to listening to our residents and community of entrepreneurs to leverage their insight, skill, and innovative ideas to help us improve urban life on every level. Building a successful startup ecosystem is only the first step to creating a mutually beneficial relationship where city and tech hub can constantly contribute to the improvement of each other.
Hila Oren is founder and CEO of Tel Aviv Global.