An eco-friendly hotel run jointly by Jews and Arabs; an educational app that teaches Hebrew and Arabic; a Jerusalem-based musical training program; and an app creating videos that depict both Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian cultures were just a few of the startup ideas and social projects pitched at a joint Israeli-Arab-Palestinian tech-pitch event held in Jerusalem last week.
The “Pitch Your Bridge” event, featuring at least 60 Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs from Jerusalem, Gaza, Nablus, Rahat, and the United Arab Emirates, was hosted by global VC firm Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) at the Margalit Startup City headquarters, just a week after an 11-day round of violence between Israel and Hamas, the terror organization that rules the Gaza Strip, ended last month.
The event was held in collaboration with Together & Beyond, a young adult community of Arabs and Jews from East and West Jerusalem, headed by founder Yonatan Arnon. They joined forces with the “50:50: Startups,” an accelerator that brings Israeli Arabs, Jews, and Palestinians together to develop joint projects, and the company cnvrg.io to partner in the event.
During the event, participants presented two-minute pitches both online and in-person to describe their startup ideas and ventures. The entrepreneurs received feedback from JVP mentors as well as additional entrepreneurs based in Israel, the US, and the UAE.
“The most interesting ones I think on this occasion were the social projects, which not only generate jobs and growth but promote engagement and understandings. These are projects that embrace the other and face up to the reality that we can learn so much from people who have a different outlook, a different background, different experience – these initiatives have the potential to give birth to great ideas,” Erel Margalit, JVP founder and chairman tells NoCamels.
The event began with a discussion led by Margalit and Rami A., a Palestinian entrepreneur and peace activist who joined the event from Gaza via Zoom. His surname was not disclosed. Rami founded the “Young Leaders Center,” according to a statement from JVP, and has worked to nurture a new generation of young Gazan leaders who will strive for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
“Initiatives of this kind that are happening today provide an opportunity for a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians that allows us to learn about each other’s lives. The young entrepreneurs here want to be a part of everything. But they do not have the opportunity to do so,” Rami A. told participants at the event, “They have nothing. There are wars and internal conflicts so they are forced to find another job to make money, which makes people miss out on their hope for a better future. But we need brave people to prove to everyone that we can do it together. Everyone needs to understand that we share the same air, the same water, and the same conflict. “
“People like you continue to give this region hope, and build the bridges we will continue to build together in the next decade. We need brave people to prove to everyone that we can do it together. We need everyone to understand that we share the same goals. And we are willing to help, promote dialogue with entrepreneurs from Gaza, and the West Bank, in our vision to even invest in projects together. It is clear to us that economic investment, and job development, are the key to regional change,” Margalit told him during the discussion, according to the statement.
Margalit tells NoCamels that the discussion brought out “a genuine desire to find the common ground” despite adversity, suffering and distrust on both sides, and the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Through the shared spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation, we came together to explore what can be done even now, to offer hope for a better future for Israelis and Palestinians,” he says.
Jerusalem pitch event
In November, twenty young Jewish and Arab entrepreneurs from Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Beit Hanina, Shuafat, Rehavia, and Katamon gathered at the Margalit Startup City headquarters to present innovative technology that will benefit the city and influence social change. The event included one-minute elevator pitches, with each entrepreneur presenting his or her project to other hackathon participants.
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The tech-pitch night served as a follow-up to the first hackathon held five months. This time, the event featured Israeli and Arab tech and social entrepreneurs from Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus, Gaza, and other locations outside Jerusalem.
“The event a few months ago now seems prophetic. The tensions can always be high, but the last few weeks are perhaps unprecedented in our lifetimes,” Margalit says. “The lesson here is clear — we have to do all we can to keep the conversation going. This is our second meeting in recent months at Margalit Startup City with Jewish and Arab entrepreneurs from across Jerusalem. In this event, we added Dubai and Gaza, as well as new cities like Nablus and Rahat. We will keep working to strengthen this dialogue.”
Most of the startups that participated in the first hackathon have continued to develop and promote their ventures, JVP said. The purpose of the tech-pitch night was to present more than 20 of these projects, which promote strategic collaboration between Jews and Arabs.
Margalit Startup City is a model for socio-economic development and is designed to promote the advancement of different aspects and areas of a city. The unique model is based on the establishment of innovation centers that connect technological-business entrepreneurship with social and cultural entrepreneurship.
The model in Jerusalem is the location of Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP), the Jerusalem-based venture capital firm founded in 1993 by Margalit. Margalit Startup City is also home to dozens of high-tech companies and associations.
In addition to Jerusalem, JVP operates a Startup City cybersecurity center in Beersheba, a food tech center in the Galilee, and a digital health center in Haifa. JVP also has a Startup City hub in New York and recently initiated talks with leading French officials to establish one in Paris.
Margalit tells NoCamels JVP is looking into establishing an innovation hub in the UAE.
He also says that Jerusalem’s Margalit Startup City will definitely host more hackathons and pitch nights bringing together Israeli, Arab, and Palestinian entrepreneurs in the future.
“It is part of our agenda, part of our DNA,” he explains.
“At Margalit Startup Cities – whether in Israel, or in New York, or wherever — our aim is to create a space, a coming together for creativity and an ecosystem to support it and give back to the society. This kind of shared experience, this important dialogue, is a key pillar of that, and even when – in fact, especially when – the streets are on fire, we will continue to promote the benefit of cooperation and partnership,” he adds.