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Beer Sheva: The next Silicon Valley of Asia

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Beer Sheva: The next Silicon Valley of Asia

Priyanka Chooudhury

Israel is prospering very fast. Decades back, though it was a poor country, now it is emerging as one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Welcome to Ber Sheva, the capital city of Nagev region in Israel! Beer Sheva is the fourth most populous metropolis in Israel. Beer Sheva is generally not on the agendas of many tourists to Israel, and is therefore somewhat of an off the beaten track destination. There are a number of interesting and unique things to do in Beer Sheva, an ancient city dating from Biblical times, including the old Turkish town, which is the only planned Ottoman city in the region, the Turkish railway station, and the Bedouin market, as well as nearby Tel Beer Sheba which is the archaeological remnants of the ancient city.

The Old Turkish Town of Beer Sheva is the only city built by the Ottomans during their rule over the land, and today contains interesting remnants of this period including the Governor’s House which was the home and office of the first governor of the city, built in 1906 and today home to the Negev Museum of Art. The Old City also houses the city’s first mosque also built in 1906, the Turkish railway station built during the First World War, and many more buildings and streets which set the scene of life in the city and many other cities under Ottoman Rule.

The Bedouin market is a famous attraction in Beer Sheva, a weekly occasion taking place on Thursdays since 1905 in which Bedouins from the neighboring villages come and sell various authentic Bedouin wares such as copper products, glassware, jewelry, weaved crafts such as rugs, and more, as well as modern stalls selling clothing, footwear, and food, as you would find in any other market. The Bedouin market is relatively unique, a vibrant and colorful marketplace which is interesting to visit if you are in the city. On the outskirts of Beer Sheva is the Israel Air Force Museum, worth visiting if you’re interested in aviation.

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.

The coworking space WeWork opened a branch in Beersheba in January 2016, 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.

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.

Lockheed Martin and IBM formally announced that they will set up their research activities in the park, joining Deutsche Telekom and EMC. More than 450 heads of industry and cyber security agencies from around the world attended Tel Aviv’s Cybertech 2014, where the announcements of CyberSpark were made. Among those attending were 50 people from the White House and the Department of Homeland Security, and top officials from Checkpoint, IBM, Cisco, EMC and Kaspersky.

“Beer-Sheva will not only be the cyber capital of Israel but one of the most important places in the cyber security field in the world,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared at the opening of the conference.

CyberSpark is being billed as the only complex of its kind in the world that includes industry leaders, academic research, leading security agencies, educational facilities and human capital specializing in cyber security and national government agencies.

Their goal is to produce a complete eco-system which will contain all the components needed to create a global leader in the cyber field by the pooling of resources, shared technology infrastructure construction and synergy of specialists, researchers and students.

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