Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion famously said that the future of Israel lies in the Negev, a desert located in southern Israel. Ben Gurion’s prophetic words ring true today as Beersheba, Israel’s southern capital, is morphing into a tech oasis.
The military’s massive relocation of its prestigious technology units, the presence of multinational and local companies, a close proximity to Ben Gurion University and generous government subsidies are turning Beersheba into a major global cybertech hub.
Beersheba has all of the ingredients of a vibrant security technology ecosystem, including Ben-Gurion University with its graduate program in cybersecurity and Cyber Security Research Center, and the presence of companies such as EMC, Deutsche Telekom, Paypal, Oracle, IBM, and Lockheed Martin. It’s also the future home of the INCB (Israeli National Cyber Bureau); offers a special income tax incentive for cyber security companies, and was the site for the relocation of the army’s intelligence corps units.
“All in all, projections are that 20,000-30,000 cyber and related jobs would be created in Beersheba over the next 10 years,” said Yoav Tzurya, partner at JVP, an Israeli venture capital firm with a cybertech accelerator in Beersheba.
The commercial sector has teamed up with military intelligence agencies and BGU to fight increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks.
“As an ex-intelligence leader in the IDF Intelligence Corps, I started my own company to help organizations leverage military intelligence methodologies to address some of the most pressing cybersecurity challenges including the security operations skills shortage and the deafening noise-to-signal challenge of cyber threats,” said Amos Stern, co-founder and CEO of Siemplify, a cybersecurity threat analysis company and ex-Army IDF Intelligence Corps Leader.
The nearby Ben Gurion University is pumping out skilled labor for multinational companies next door.
“Ben Gurion University plays an obvious and important role here. The tight collaboration with major industry firms, such as Deutsche Telekom, EMC, and IBM, makes the BGU cybersecurity program a very strong and practical one,” said Stern.
Stern says that the practical and theoretical experience of BGU graduates is unique and the graduates of BGU are often alumni of Israel’s intelligence units.
“I’ve found BGU cybersecurity graduates to be well-aligned with this focus, bringing more than just a theoretical understanding of cyber. They bring a professionalism that’s very valuable when you’re looking to solve the real-world challenges of today’s business, “ said Stern.
Feeding the burgeoning ecosystem, the army is investing billions of dollars in relocating most of its intelligence units to Beersheba and these units tends to have large budgets for state-of-the-art technology.
“It’s no wonder why companies like RSA, Lockheed Martin and others have decided to reside there as well. Another important factor is that upon finishing army service, people graduating these units have the option to continue working in their field of expertise in Beersheba rather than having to move to Tel Aviv.
In addition, the government has also approved benefits for companies relocating their employees to Beersheba in order to expedite building this cyber security ecosystem,” said Tomer Saban, cofounder and CEO of WireX, a digital forensics company based in Israel and Silicon Valley.
More signs of good things to come
The coworking space WeWork opened a branch in Beersheba in January, an indication that the influx of startups is in full swing. WeWork, known for its presence in big cities seems to have made an exception in its big-city strategy by launching a branch in the desert.
“We believe that many exciting and innovative companies will develop and emerge here in the next few years. We are also finding that many companies are relocating to Beersheba and we are here to offer them a suitable solution,” said Ronnie Ceder, general manager of WeWork in Israel.
Beersheba’s cybersecurity hub has also piqued the interest of Rudy Giuliani, the former Mayor of New York City who vistied the hub earlier this month to inspect the burgeoning cyber security hub and to talk to students, researchers and startup entrepreneurs. Giuliani is following a long line of politicians who are eager to benefit from Israeli cybertech know-how.
In February, The United Kingdom and Israel announced an agreement to deepen co-operation to tackle cyber-attacks.
British Cabinet Minister Matt Hancock launched a new academic engagement in the emerging area field of cyber-physical security, which includes Israeli experts meeting leading UK academics with a strengthened relationship between the Cyber Emergency Response Teams of both countries, according a statement on the British government’s website.
“The UK’s world class companies and universities combined with Israel’s cutting edge technology and entrepreneurial culture is an unbeatable combination, “ said Hancock.
Israel’s unusual startup culture is a product of seamless cooperation between different actors. The cross-pollination between military, academia and private sector comprise the key ingredients of Israel’s coastal successes, with the country’s desert capital Beersheba now following suit.