It may come as a shock for a city dating back three millennia, but Jerusalem is making a name for itself as one of the top tech cities on the globe. Israel’s reputation as Startup Nation began in 2009 when “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” by Dan Senor and Saul Singer was published. The country has more startups per capita than anywhere else in the world and, in 2015, Jerusalem was named the No. 1 global city to develop a high-tech community by Entrepreneur.
Today, more than 500 startups call Jerusalem home. These companies are not only playing a part in modernizing the city; they also have a hand in its meetings business.
Take Jon Medved, CEO of OurCrowd, who came to Jerusalem from the United States to start his now multimillion-dollar crowdfunding company. Medved plans OurCrowd’s Global Investor Summit, an annual conference held in Jerusalem for international investors to meet with local entrepreneurs. Launched nearly three years ago with 800 people in attendance, the summit grew to 3,000 people this year at ICC Jerusalem International Convention Center.
“The tech element in Jerusalem is critical for any conference,” says Medved, noting the production value at the convention center felt like what you’d find at the annual Las Vegas staple CES. “Whatever you’re doing, technology better be part of it,” he adds.
With this in mind, the CVB created what it calls an Innovation Package catered to a group’s needs. The package includes tablets with 3G data attendees can carry to stay connected during their time in Jerusalem. (Don’t bother buying an international data plan as it pairs to smartphones as well.) The tablets come with customized real-time polling for speakers to interact with the audience, digital conference schedules and a feedback option that goes live as the event concludes.
“We’re sending a message to the world that Jerusalem is an interruptive, innovative destination,” says Melchior about the city, where there are more than 350 research and development centers for companies such as General Electric Co., Ford Motor Co. and Johnson & Johnson. Jerusalem is also where Intel designs 70 percent of its chips worldwide, and home to Teva, the largest generic pharmaceutical company on the globe, as well as Mobileye, producer of the world’s leading technology for self-driving cars.
There’s no overlooking Israel’s history of geopolitical and religious conflict. International planners who haven’t experienced the city firsthand are often hesitant to book—a concern the CVB is prepared to address. “We aren’t hiding,” says Melchior. “We know there’s a question of security.”
Working closely with the Jerusalem CVB, the Israel Ministry of Tourism provides the Safety Net procedure, an insurance policy to protect conference organizers in the event of a crisis. “We want you to feel safe,” says Halevi. “You can make the decision to have a conference here two years from now, and if any geopolitical situation happens [before then], we will reimburse your [promotional] expenses.”
Available to international conferences happening between 2017 and 2020, the Safety Net procedure expenses 75 percent of marketing and advertising costs for a conference canceled due to geopolitical crises. If the conference is postponed instead of canceled, the Ministry of Tourism will cover 25 to 50 percent of promotional costs.
“There are a lot of places in the world that are not safe anymore,” says Melchior. Turning its negative past into a positive, Israel is an expert in crisis management. Cities like Paris and Istanbul look to Israel for guidance on how to handle recent acts of terror, return to business as usual and be better prepared in the future, adds Melchior.