Aerial view of Jerusalem, December 17, 2019. 

Despite limitations on the typical Jerusalem Day parades and festivities in the face of the coronavirus outbreak this year, the capital of Israel will enjoy livestreamed concerts, prayer services broadcasted from the Western Wall and many other web-based festivities that commemorate the reunification of Jerusalem after the Six-Day-War in 1967.

But in addition to the (mostly) traditional celebrations occurring from May 21-22 on Jerusalem Day, Wendy Singer, executive director of Start Up Nation Central, believes that the Israeli holiday can be used as a day to commend the city’s lesser known, but no less miraculous story — the story of its thriving tech ecosystem, built from “basically nothing.”

According to Start Up Nation Central, Jerusalem has seen a 102% growth in the number of city-based tech companies since 2012, painting a picture of a fast-growing technology ecosystem that includes 405 companies, 22 exits and total investments worth $1.6 billion, of which $233.5 million are from the past year. In addition to the impressive 166% increase in the field of artificial intelligence, the most prominent sector in the city’s tech landscape is biotech and life science, which provides a range of innovative solutions for modern-day challenges posed by COVID-19.

“This is a lesser known part of the Jerusalem story,” Singer told JNS. “High-tech used to be the lesser known part of the Israel story, but that’s changed dramatically.”

Still, when people think about Jerusalem, said Singer, “they think of the seat of Israel’s government, conflict, history and culture. Why not use Jerusalem Day, when there is a spotlight on city, to tell the story of how this vibrant and on-the-word-stage tech ecosystem was built from nothing.”

Jerusalem’s fostering of this ecosystem is no accident, emphasized Singer. She maintained that “building blocks” such as Israel’s demographic diversity and inclusion — two values highly cherished by technology companies — as well as a connectivity between world-ranked academic institutions, the government and NGOs, have helped the city evolve and become a magnet for entrepreneurial activity and cutting-edge innovation.

“Jerusalem’s tech sector has not only grown dramatically in the past eight years, but can serve as a model for other cities as an emerging global tech hub,” said Singer. She noted that the mayor of Tulsa, Oklahoma, recently spent two hours at Start Up Nation Central, asking “what happened here; how did this city’s tech sector [emerge], and how can we bring that to Tulsa?”

Combining past and future, acting as an anchor

OurCrowd founder and CEO Jon Medved related that Jerusalem is so much “in the trend” of global innovation that it has “moved into its rightful slot as a major part of Israel’s, and onto the world’s, tech scene.”

He agreed that Jerusalem’s strength lies in its diverse population, strong medical and academic institutions and its output of computer-science graduates, international identity and tourist-friendly nature. Most importantly, he said, Jerusalem combines both past and future, acting as an anchor that creates a fertile opportunity for creativity and rootedness for entrepreneurs aiming to become a part of its history.

Israel’s largest tech exit in history was Intel’s acquisition of the Jerusalem-based company Mobileye for $15 billion. This year another Jerusalem company, Lightricks, had a $1 billion valuation, pointed out both Singer and Medved.

The two, who have collaborated together along with most other institutions in Jerusalem’s Start Up ecosystem, voiced their shared belief that Jerusalem’s tech scene may come out even stronger after the coronavirus. Singer noted that at least 15 Jerusalem-based companies directly related to “coronatech” have connected to companies and health care institutions around the world. Medved added that he has seen “a lot of funds” that used to steer clear from digital health and preferring cyber, cloud and AI “rising to the occasion.”

Until next Jerusalem Day, Singer predicted “more steady growth in Jerusalem, a greater presence on the world stage, and taking the ‘magic dust’ from a complicated city and sharing that with the world.”

Medved, too, declared that “trends are very positive” in Jerusalem. “Look at the highways, the building projects in the center of city, the renewal, what’s going on in neighborhoods, and the nightlife before the [coronavirus] crisis … we’ve really arrived as a major part of Israel’s tech scene. You can’t ignore it anymore. It’s here.” JN