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In the Heart of Israel’s ‘Start-up Nation,’ an Exclusive Scene Opens Up

That possibility fuels organizations working to expand Israel’s tech sector, such as The Hybrid, which helps Arab-led start-ups scale up, and WMN, an advocacy and mentoring organization for women entrepreneurs in Tel Aviv and the north of Israel. Tech has also taken hold in Jerusalem, and is growing in Nazareth as well as cities near Tel Aviv like Herzliya and Ra’anana-Kfar Saba.

And the entire industry has been throwing its doors open, according to Orlie Dahan, executive director of Tel Aviv-based EcoMotion, an organization trying to build Israel’s smart-transportation sector. While in the recent past, companies might have done everything in-house and under wraps, “the new world is all about consortiums; everyone bringing something to the table and together creating bigger, greater things,” Ms. Dahan said.

She encourages travelers to sign up for one of EcoMotion’s twice-a-year hackathons, where teams spend 36 hours trying to solve a mobility challenge presented by industry heavyweights, such as auto manufacturers, or France’s national rail operator S.N.C.F., which in the past has invited teams to personalize the travel-booking experience for riders.

“There’s room for all types of players,” Ms. Dahan said. “Even if you’re not a coder, you can be the one doing the presentation, managing the project or designing the mock-up to show how the app will look.”

If a hackathon sounds like too much, less formal tech events abound in the evenings throughout the year. Many opportunities can be found through Meetup.com, and offer travelers a peek behind the industry curtain. The soaring Azrieli Sarona Tower, where numerous tech companies have offices, hosts gatherings, as does Rise Tel Aviv, one of the British bank Barclays’ financial-tech work spaces, in the financial district.

“It’s very easy to get into the Israeli tech scene through Meetups and events,” said Erez Gavish of TLV Starters, which guides new entrepreneurs from early idea to up-and-running businesses from its office at Google Campus, the Israeli outpost of Google’s international chain of start-up hubs, another venue for tech events. The tight-knit culture means that one conversation can open the door to yet another gathering. Most evenings offer between five and 10 free event options, often within walking distance of each other and in English; Israeli start-ups generally need funding from outside Israel and create pitches in English from the get-go, according to Mr. Gavish.

As for the origins of Israeli innovation, he points to a combination of factors, from tech-savvy military alums to the desert environs that inspired the invention of drip-irrigation in the 1960s.


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