Out of the Bubble

Talents, education, and breathtaking views - Tech in the Kinneret is fighting for its place in the ecosystem

CTech spoke with a group of entrepreneurs, academics, and investors about what makes the Kinneret such an attractive tech hub in Israel’s periphery

Elihay Vidal and James Spiro 13:5307.02.22



“If you're looking in Israel today, the hi-tech scene can’t only be in and around Tel Aviv. People are already feeling the burden of living in this big city with all the traffic jams, especially during the Covid times when you cannot just go outside and leave the city life. People are looking for a different quality of life and this is what we have in this area.” This is how Benny Bauer, Chief Architect at Skai, sees the differences between Israeli high-tech in the center of the country in contrast to that which takes place in the periphery. In this case, he was referring to the Jordan Valley region.


Bauer made the remarks at a panel hosted by CTech as part of the "Out of the Bubble" series in which CTech journalists visit various high-tech centers throughout Israel. The panel, which examined the advantages and challenges of the high-tech industry in the region, also included President of the Kinneret Academic College Shimon Gepstein, Chairperson of Log Pharma Packaging Dr. Nurit Nahum, and Arbelon Holdings CEO Adi Gur.


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More "Out of the Bubble" in the Jordan Valley region




“It’s what made me six years ago move from the center of Israel to the Golan Heights and a few years later to convince a tech company, Skai, to open an R&D site,” Bauer continued. “There are talented people around here that until Covid, or a few years ago, had to drive to the center in order to find a good job. But the formula can also work in the opposite way. You can bring the good work up north and you have the people here. They don't need to commute three hours to the center and moreover, during Covid, we saw people moving up north and looking for this quality of life. They're coming here, and there's already a tech scene here to welcome them,” said Bauer.


As part of CTech’s “Out of the Bubble” series, we were hosted last week by the Kinneret Innovation Center (KIC), located at the Kinneret Academic College in the Jordan Valley. The center was established in 2018 to create an “ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship” and foster a regional and international growth engine by leveraging regional strengths. It focuses on the fields of agritech, watertech, and sustainability and strives to enable socio-economic growth in the Jordan Valley and provide innovative solutions to the global food and agriculture market.


At the Kinneret Innovation Center, we spoke with entrepreneurs, investors, and academics about the technological activity in the area and the challenges that are typical of the region. Cowboys harnessing technology for herding, water and energy experts, and isolated community security solutions are just some of the ideas being built in the Jordan Valley ecosystem, with the talents that live in it and the unique characteristics of the region.


What is it about the Kinneret that attracts this type of innovation and why is it attractive to those outside of traditional bubbles?


“I think everything starts with the term 'innovation' ecosystem',” explained President of the Kinneret Academic College Shimon Gepstein. That's where, he believes, the panel all have a mutual interest but that the catalyst of this innovation ecosystem starts from academia. “‘Ecosystem’ comes from the term in biology. I am a biologist, and in biology, we are talking about the ecosystem and the interconnection relationship between different partners. I think there is a triangle here of academia, industry, and of community… Ecosystem means we need to work together, without the industry and without academia we can not do the main role we would like to have, have an impact on the region: an economic impact, a social impact, and everything starts with academia and we think it is not just one direction, it is two ways. We need to talk with academia, we need to talk with the community, and that's why we are sitting here, to talk about it.”


For Chairperson of Log Pharma Packaging Dr. Nurit Nahum, she sees two major questions that need answering: “Why here and why now? I believe that now in this area, during Covid, we have a unique window of opportunity to create or take advantage of what happens in the world, the global trends that actually support the ecosystem that Professor Gepstein talked about. First, digitalization. AI development can support, and does support, Israeli companies in general but specifically those companies that are in the area that have the opportunity to create more value, more value proposition to their customers that we can bring in from our industrial products, more value to the customer.”


The second thing Dr. Nahum cited was Gen-Z and its influence on the world. “People are different today,” she continued. “They're looking for different qualities of life which are here if you're looking at the communities here. Amazing communities with amazing people and businesses take it from there. Businesses change according to what happens in the social arena, so this is a great opportunity to attract young generations, which are very talented - I can see it from the companies that are already here.”


“We only have one Galilee Sea in Israel,” said Gur, CEO of Arbelon Holdings when commenting on the beauty behind him. “It's a beautiful place, with an excellent quality of life, so why not high-tech? Why not innovation? There are industries that have been here for more than 100 years, there has been agriculture here for more than 500 years, there are excellent people, great academics, so why not?... It's an excellent place and it's a global-local place. I see a good future for this place.”


What are some of the challenges living here?


“We are not in a good shape in terms of our socio-economic population,” said Gepstein, expressing concern for people from the neighboring Tiberias and the Arab villages. “One of the things we would like to do is what we call Social Mobility. Today, most of the people here don't find good high paying jobs, so we need to upgrade the socio-economic situation. We decided to do it here and promote academic education and higher education. Because the key point to upgrade and go upward in terms of social mobility is to do it through academic education… The most important challenge is how to bring industry, high tech, and other attractive places for having jobs to the people here. Right now we are in a vicious cycle. There are people in the cities from a low socio-economic population, they don't have good jobs in terms of salaries, and there are not enough companies here to offer the jobs. So in order to solve this kind of vicious cycle, we need to do something.”


Bauer agreed that education and social mobility is a pressing issue facing the region. “One of the issues we have here is that we don't have enough technical education here and we don't provide enough opportunities for our kids to grow and then serve in this ecosystem. It starts with how maybe there are not enough role models because parents are doing something else and you're not exposed to the tech scene. It's not like you're in Herzliya or Tel Aviv and all you see are skyscrapers of tech companies - not that we want them here! We still want our beautiful landscape here, but we do want to have this awareness that there is this option. It starts with school.”


For Gur, the larger emphasis lies in the infrastructure as a whole that encompasses education, housing, social life, economy, and industry. “When you take all of it together, and you invest in academics and the government money that comes in, you can promote a place,” he explained.


“I believe it's a lot of our perception in our minds,” added Dr. Nahum. “I think the notion of high tech and low tech is a kind of spectrum. I've been involved in many companies that are industrial but have a lot of technology, such as capital equipment, screening, and so on, called the high tech sectors… high tech is not only software companies, it's a wide range of companies or firms that can create products or solutions or services and are using technology. I think it's the way of thinking - us here in the area that we can do it and we can create technology companies or companies that create a unique value proposition.”


What can be done for the folks and companies in the Kinneret to help boost its place on the periphery? That might include bringing bigger companies here, or starting new centers - what would that look like?


For Gepstein, it’s about finding what is unique about the Kinneret. “I think, and everyone knows, that the Sea of Galilee is the only freshwater lake in Israel - so let's talk about water,” he said. “Water and sustainability are some of the problems of the world. Let's talk about technologies related to the water industry, water irrigation. This, the academic Kinneret College, is the only institute in Israel that grants a degree in water industries and water engineering. So this is the place for water engineering. So that's one of the things we should work on. The second is regarding agriculture. The Jordan Valley has been a basis for agriculture for more than 100 years. We have to concentrate and focus our efforts on agriculture - the only program in Israel in agricultural engineering is here in the Kinneret… We attract most of the companies here either from Israel or international companies, to come here and to upgrade the science, industry, and technology related to agriculture in terms of high tech, in terms of sensors, drones, and how we can improve and have an impact on agriculture in terms of industry, engineering. Here in the college, we have the faculty of engineering and it's our role to improve and develop this field in terms of engineering.”


Bauer hopes to see the academy turned into an applied research location for tech software topics and perhaps incorporate second degrees or PHDs, too. “Together with the tech companies, we have here become more of an R&D than what we have today in this area. I believe this will be the center of gravity to pull in all the rest: the younger generation, more companies, I think it starts there,” he said.


Dr. Nahum noted the physical infrastructure and how when companies have to ship their products, or when the region wants to export services or invite experts to communicate with other sites around the country, it's difficult to get there. “I think this is part of our government authority's responsibility to create better physical and also internet infrastructure - everything people need in order to create a better life here in the area - and to connect us to the world,” she said.


Gur: “There is a special energy here, as a special mentality of people who know how to cope. And I believe with academics, with a very long experience of agriculture, there is a lot of experience and knowledge here. Putting it all into a formula can create a really special formula that can achieve a lot of innovation.”


What can the government or local municipalities do to encourage growth in the sector and help it create a booming tech ecosystem?


For Gepstein, higher education in terms of research and contributions to the region is most important. “It has been decided to establish a university in the Galilee and the Kinneret College is one of the partners in this university,” he explained. “I believe it will be established soon. Of course, we are looking at applicative research, it's not basic research, but applicative research that can improve and upgrade our industry in the region.”


“To encourage business, you should give grants, you should give tax benefits, you should give people who are employed here tax benefits,” said Dr. Nahum. “There are a lot of fruits in the basket that governments know how to use and how to create this ecosystem and to support it. So it's also to support those companies that are here and to attract other companies to work here.”


For Gur, it is all about the infrastructure. “Introduce education, universities, incentives, and it will come,” he predicts.


Bauer forecasts there are two things that will help make the Kinerret a booming ecosystem in the future. “One thing is to have education for the younger kids to support and have more programs that help them,” he concludes. “The other thing is for the students already here and studying, I would like to see the government give grants and funds so they would be able to start working in the companies that are around here during their study time.”