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A new challenge nurtures young innovators who aspire to put ideas into practice.

Haifa Teen Tech is a hackathon competition aimed to expose young technological entrepreneurs, aged 15-18, to the advantages of the state of Israel and the city of Haifa as an international scientific and technological center.

Founder and Director of Haifa Teen Tech, Liora Kalish: "The first competition took place on December 2017, was very successful, and the response was overwhelming.

I have to say that it even exceeded what we—the team that worked on it for two years—have expected.

"The success led to the Mayor—backed by the other partners, such as the Technion and Haifa University, Intel, IBM, Philips, etc.—deciding to make this an annual tradition. This year, the event will celebrate 70 years to the State of Israel; therefore, there will be seventy participants—half from around the world, half from Israel—as opposed to sixty in the previous time.

"I see it as a Zionist endeavor. Our vision is that youths from all over the world will arrive, and connect to the State of Israel through science and technology; on the one hand, science is their language, on the other hand, it is something we are very good at and can assist in teaching and promoting.

"By the way, it is very important to me to stress that participation is open to Jews and non-Jews alike, from Israel and abroad. Diversity is highly significant to us—different religions, different genders—as far as we are concerned, it is a binding point. Previously we had competitors from twelve countries, including Australia, Argentina, USA, Turkey, Panama, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Peru, the United Kingdom and Germany. We are moving the event to the summer, with the understanding that it would attract more states, as students from the northern hemisphere have school during winter, so it will be easier for them to arrive in the summer.

"A committee—headed by Nobel Prize Laureate Prof. Avraham Hershko—composed of Haifa’s top researchers and industry representatives is responsible for the academic side. The man who manages the event, Ilan Alter, specializes in organizing and mentoring of accelerators and hackathons. The mentors and judges are also academics and people from the field.

"The event includes tours of the country, as fun is also important. At least one day is devoted to visits to companies in the high-tech industry and to the Technion. The hackathon itself lasts three days. The participants are divided into working groups of six, three who are local and three from abroad. Each team receives an issue, a problem that needs a technological solution, and they think it over with their mentors. I must say that they came up with brilliant ideas; those youngsters have very creative minds.

"HTT is going to become an annual brand name; I see it grow commercially. I also think that the more we advance and more industries will join us, we will get to a point where companies will want to develop the invented products. The first challenge was a pilot; we did not want to go too far, so as not to fail, but I definitely think that this is the vision—to make it grow and be familiar among communities abroad.

"It is very important for me to mention that the initiative is accompanied by Shira's Fund, named after Shira Zur, an army officer from Haifa who was murdered a year ago in a truck ramming attack in Jerusalem. Her parents are deeply involved with the event. The aim of the Fund is to ensure that young people who cannot afford the cost will attend the event, and I must say with pride that all who asked for help received it. There was not one person that we turned down, so children from all socioeconomic groups took part in the competition."