Israeli Arabs (Arab citizens of Israel) make up close to 20% of the population of the country. The relationship between Israel and its Arab citizens has historically been a complex one. Nothing is ever simple in the Middle East and despite the fact that many Arabs who are Israeli citizens have not reached their economic potential, a growing number are enjoying the same economic advancement as their fellow Jewish citizens. The reality is that many Arabs have not fully integrated into Israeli society for the simple reason a number of them are not Zionists, but despite their political views they are still an important building block in the Startup Nation. There is also a budding Palestinian tech scene, but for the purposes of this article we will cover Israeli Arabs and how they’re playing a part in building the Israeli ecosystem.
Israel’s standing in the Arab world, particularly in the Gulf (where there are emerging tech ecosystems such as Dubai) has started to slightly warm, for a number of reasons such as Israel’s excellence in technologies the world needs (ex., AI,cyber). Closer to home traditionally academically talented young Arab men went on to become engineers, lawyers, or doctors. As a very family focused traditional society the desire (as well as the lack of entrepreneur role models) to create a high growth tech company has not been something that was encouraged. Things are slowly changing for the better, with tech entrepreneurship entering the mainstream in the Arab community.
Since 2012 the Israeli government has created programs to help Israeli Arabs integrate into the tech industry in order to boost economic growth and reduce inequality. Even as we are weeks away from entering 2018 Israel’s tech industry (that has served as a major growth engine for the economy) is facing an acute shortage of skilled workers. As we covered in our recent article about the ultra-Orthodox the government (and private enterprises) have looked to resolve this shortage by tapping into the ultra-orthodox and Arab populations, which are still at the sidelines of the tech boom.
Cooperation between Israeli Jews and Arabs is at the heart of what drives the Israeli Arab ecosystem. A good example of this cooperation is the joint Jewish-Arab incubator in Nazareth. Hybrid, an accelerator that aims to promote startups in the Arab sector works with startups with one or more Arab, Druze or Bedouin founders. They work in cooperation with the 8200 Alumni Association in order to build world class companies (8200 is the elite intelligence unit where many of Israel’s leading startups have been founded by their alumni).
Venture capital is vital to the growth of any tech ecosystem (including Israel’s with the government funded Yozma program in the early 1990’s). Tawkin Labs is a “venture capital fund and incubator, making early-stage investments in hi-tech companies run by Arab entrepreneurs in Israel” that is located in the heart of the very diverse city of Haifa in northern Israel. Partnerships are extremely important in the tech community and Takwin Labs has close relationships with two of Israel’s most important VC funds; JVP and Pitango.
An example of one of Takwin Lab’s impressive portfolio companies is Myndlift, a startup that provides drug-free ADHD therapy using a special headband that can record brain-wave activity and translate it into a mobile game. Myndlift was one of the companies that Prince William met with during his visit to Israel earlier this year.
2018 and the world is changing in ways we could not foresee even five years ago, and while there is always more work to be done Israel has started to integrate knowledge workers from the Arab sector into its tech workforce. Tech and economic integration is the way forward and in the end self-interest and providing for one’s family is what drives this cooperation. As the Startup Nation continues to grow, so will this trend of spreading the entrepreneur ethos within Israel’s minority communities. Join us here at Clearview Partnersas we continue to share the story of the Startup Nation in upcoming articles.
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The Clearview Team