Alongside its history and culture, Jerusalem has evolved in recent years into a highly accomplished center of innovation. Over the past couple of months, startups in Israel’s capital have joined the global battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, and have taken up the search for innovative solutions for the ‘new normal’ – the post-coronavirus era.
Here are five fast facts about Jerusalem’s incredibly vibrant ecosystem:
Investors have poured $1.6 billion into the city’s high-tech companies
There are currently 405 active tech companies in the Jerusalem ecosystem, a 102% increase over 2012. In 2019 alone, $233.5 million were invested in Jerusalem-based companies and startups, a 21% increase from the prior year. Over the years, Jerusalem-based companies have seen 22 exits and total investments of $1.6 billion, according to Start-Up Nation Central’s Finder.
The capital of Israel also boasts the largest tech exit in Israel’s history: Intel’s acquisition of Jerusalem-based Mobileye for $15.3 billion. Jerusalem is home to additional tech unicorns (companies worth $1 billion or more): visual editing app developer Lightricks; and OrCam, which has developed assistive tech for the visually impaired.
AI is one of Jerusalem’s fastest-growing tech sectors
Over the past five years, the number of companies developing artificial intelligence technologies has grown from 30 to 80, a whopping 166% increase. In 2019, over 60% of the (disclosed) investments in Jerusalem-based startups were in the field of AI. This is in large measure thanks to the strong machine-learning faculty at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
One of these investments was made in Lightricks, which last summer raised funds at a $1 billion valuation, making it a ‘unicorn.’ Lightricks integrates AI, machine learning, image processing and computer-graphic technologies for mobile products and solutions.
Other examples include BrainQ, which uses AI tech to identify patterns of impaired neural networks (such as those caused by a stroke) and is currently in clinical trials; unicorn OrCam has developed wearable assistive technology for visually impaired individuals, using AI and machine learning for face recognition (among other uses). OrCam’s technology is groundbreaking for the nearly 1 billion visually impaired or blind people around the world.
The capital’s diverse populations contribute to its innovation prowess
Jerusalem boasts vibrant tech, design and academic ecosystems supported by NGOs and government authorities located in the capital, with the Jerusalem Development Authority as the government arm dedicated to the growth of the city’s tech sector. But its most important asset, perhaps, is the city’s diverse population – secular and religious, Jews and non-Jews, Israeli-born and new immigrants.
Diversity and inclusion should be values cherished by tech companies around the world. Tech companies with greater diversity on their teams are more resilient as they can combine the strengths of individuals who think and work differently. It should come as no surprise that diverse companies perform better.
Drawing on the city’s diverse demographic makeup, there has been a movement to train and integrate the traditionally underrepresented Arab-Israeli and Ultra-Orthodox communities into the tech sector, thereby creating an innovative model being studied by foundations and governments in other countries. This movement includes programs operated by Scale-Up Velocity, which create a fresh talent supply to the tech industry through training and integrating underrepresented populations into the city’s tech sector.
Jerusalem-based companies are instrumental in the fight against COVID-19
Jerusalem’s life sciences and biotech sectors actively partake in the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Roughly 33% (130 companies) of the city’s high-tech companies are in the life-sciences category: in digital health, medical devices and pharma.
Several companies have developed solutions that are highly relevant to the current outbreak. One example is Pepticom, which uses artificial intelligence to discover peptide-based drugs. Since the outbreak of the virus, the startup has identified peptides with a likelihood to suppress the COVID-19 virus. Another example is Bio-fence, which produces an anti-viral shielding for the food industry; the shielding was already found to be effective on the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Other local coronavirus-fighting startups include EyeControl, whose solution preserves lines of communication between ventilated COVID-19 patients (and others) and nurse stations outside quarantine; and uLabs, which uses ultrasonic technology to detect COVID-19. This is just a partial list.
Coronavirus studies: Jerusalem’s hospitals and universities provide invaluable insights
Significant research on the COVID-19 pandemic has been conducted by Jerusalem’s hospitals and universities. For example, Shaare Zedek Medical Center sampled more than 2,500 coronavirus patients to establish a biobank – the country’s largest COVID-19 database. This databank allows researchers to characterize the disease, identify complications, find novel diagnostic methods, vaccines and even contribute to testing new treatments. More than 65 coronavirus studies have already been performed at the hospital.
Meanwhile, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has focused its efforts on virus characteristics and early detection techniques. By the end of April 2020, Yissum (the university’s tech transfer arm) had made 33 coronavirus-related technologies available for licensing.
This article is based on data and analysis conducted by Start-Up Nation Central, in partnership with the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research. To learn more about tech solutions in the field of COVID-19, visit CoronaTech Israel.