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Luring low- and high-tech to the Negev desert

Posted By Abigail Klein Leichman On July 13, 2010 @ 12:00 am In | No Comments

In a tribute to founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, two former IDF colonels have set up a technology incubator designed to green southern Israel.

Photo by Doron Horowitz/Flash90.
Israel’s Negev desert is a development challenge, but a new incubator called the Green Group hopes to bring jobs and services to the area. A long, and winding road in the Negev.

The largely unpopulated Negev desert in Israel’s south comprises 66 percent – some 6,700 square miles – of the country’s total area. With the resort town of Eilat at its southern point and the bustling city of Beersheba at its north, the remainder of the arid Negev is a development challenge. Nevertheless, Israel’s founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion made the Negev his home and dreamed of making this desert bloom.

It is in tribute to Ben-Gurion and his dream that two former Israeli army colonels founded Green Group in the Negev town of Yeruham last year. Envisioned as a technology incubator for a range of start-ups designed to provide employment and services to the area and grow its population, Green Group has drawn interest and about $5 million in investment pledges from private investors.

Capitalizing on Training Base City

In June, Green Group hosted meetings with potential high-tech and low-tech enterprises including cleantech and biotech companies. “The idea is to have 10 selected startup projects,” IT director Yossi Treistman tells ISRAEL21c. “I’m in charge of examining all the portfolios to determine which ones will get funds from us or will come to work in our headquarters.”

The nascent company, comprised of less than a dozen employees, is putting the finishing touches on an office building that stood empty for several years after its construction – a testament to the difficult business environment in Yeruham.

The town of about 9,000 residents is enjoying a modest renaissance under the mayoralty of former Haifa Mayor Amram Mitzna. Green Group intends to further Yeruham’s fortunes by capitalizing on the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) plan to move its scattered training bases to one super-sized Negev Training Base City including residential zones.

“The government is requiring that a certain amount of the services provided must be in the south, so we are planning many building projects, such as boutique hotels and 50 houses for IDF personnel to rent,” says Treistman. “We will also be helping local businesses meet the needs of the IDF base.”

One of the planned projects is a big laundromat. According to Treistman, laundry from an existing Negev officers training base is currently washed in a northeast Jerusalem industrial suburb, and some supplies are trucked down from as far north as Haifa.

Opening doors to new opportunities

Green Group’s co-founders Yoram Moyal and Ronny Marom are investing their personal as well as their professional resources in the Negev. “They could have built the company in Tel Aviv, but they believe the goal of our generation is to develop the Negev and they both live down here with their families,” says Treistman. Their experience underlines the sparseness of the south; it took Moyal more than a year to find a house.

Both men come with experience in military training. Moyal – who was Treistman’s commander – headed a training base for the Intelligence Corps, while Marom was head of a training course in the use of guided weapons. They are using their contacts in Negev businesses to recruit future instructors for Training Base City in order to realize local staffing goals for the project.

Green Group business development manager Nir Hindi told Israel’s leading financial daily Globes that 40 percent of students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev are studying technical subjects, but 95% of all students who complete their studies at BGU move to central Israel. The company aims to reverse that trend by creating and supporting regional opportunities.

“Sometimes you just need to open doors, because people here don’t realize what they are capable of doing,” Treistman concludes.

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