The city of Haifa has all the assets to breed an assembly line of successful start-ups. As home to the illustrious Technion, which continues to rank as one of the leading tech and science research universities in the world, it delivers a crop of new tech talent each and every year.
In 2006, after the Second Lebanon War, the Haifa Municipality understood the importance of creating solid and sustainable financial anchors for the city. Faced with the challenge of dealing with the city’s brain drain, Mayor Yona Yahav looked to establish a high-tech Mecca to buck the trend and create something that would leave Haifa’s brightest minds in the city.
In 2008, together with the Haifa Economic Center, they created the hiCenter – a tech and business campus that attracts the city’s best and brightest entrepreneurs and innovators, most of them graduates of the Technion and the University of Haifa. The center provides local entrepreneurs, equipped with the next great idea, $20k in return for 10% equity supporting the pre-seed stage. This is a 3-month accelerator program, similar to the American Y Combinator. Excelling startups will get the opportunity to apply for seed funding of $500k in a 2 year program of the incubator. In addition, the center provides the selected entrepreneurs invaluable resources such as tutelage, mentorship and most importantly, access to next level investors. There are a few caveats though; the idea has to be approved by the hiCenter selecting board on business merit and proof of concept of the technology. The start-up also has to commit to staying in Haifa for a period of 5 years, an obstacle in this dynamic field albeit not an insurmountable one.
Yael Mittelman the center’s CEO is a sexy woman with the presence that start-up success breeds. Prior to taking the helm of the hiCenter, Mittelman was the CEO of Trivnet, a global telecom software provider. She successfully led the company through a turnaround, transforming it into the market leader in international mobile remittance. In 2010, Trivnet was acquired by Gemalto for approx. US$40 million. As someone who cares for the future of the city, she views her position as a mix of business and local patriotism. “It’s vital for the city to cultivate a strong culture of business – to not only attract foreign multi-nationals, but to ensure that the city’s bright minds stay here and further develop the city.”
The city of Haifa has all the assets to breed an assembly line of successful start-ups. As home to the illustrious Technion, which continues to rank as one of the leading tech and science research universities in the world, it delivers a crop of new tech talent each and every year. As a city with numerous Nobel Prize winners, the last being Prof. Dan Shechtman, the city is undergoing its golden age of global tech cache and attracting a lot of attention from key players such as Apple, Yahoo, Google to name just a few. “It definitely starts with the education, but the entire city provides a unique spirit of collaboration between the different institutions and the open communication channels.”
One such example is BrightLED, a clean-tech company that develops innovative, cost-effective solutions for LED lighting. The company developed a unique technological platform for dissipation of LED-produced heat. This allows for increased power and great savings in electricity.
Recently the Israel Electric Corporation invested NIS 2 million in the company to develop designated street lighting in Haifa as a pilot project. The company, with the assistance of the hiCenter, has developed international agreements with Cree and Philips Lumileds to take their LED’s globally.
Alongside the incubator and the accelerator program, the hiCenter also operates the Top Center, a generous communal space that provides entrepreneurs a place to network and kick-start their dreams as well as access to mentors.
The center has benefitted from the Municipality’s global network of Twin Cities. Following on the heels of Haifa’s friendship agreement with the city of Hongkou, the Dabaishu-Haifa hiCenter Startup Incubator was launched. Both incubators have set out the groundwork for future collaborations in which the hiCenter’s start-ups will be exposed to the vast Chinese market.
However strong the reputation the hiCenter has built since its inception and the global networks of investors it has cultivated, this is an area that Mittelman continues to develop. “Of course, we want to grow and increase our portfolio as well as the resources we want to avail to our start-ups.”
The Haifa Investors’ Club is a key initiative that was recently devised by Mittelman to bring entrepreneurs face to face with prospective investors. For the investors, the process is ideal as they are only presented with ideas that have already been vetted by her experienced team.
The Investors’ Club was created together with S. Friedman Law Firm, one of the biggest International law firms and LeumiTech, a subsidiary of Bank Leumi.
The hiCenter’s portfolio currently includes 21 other innovative companies at different stages of development that are already set to leave a mark on the global stage.
For more information, visit the hiCenter website.