Tel Aviv, one of the early recipients of the Smart City Award, has expanded its leadership with the introduction of new tools, such as the new “City Coin”
In 2014, Tel Aviv was awarded with the Smart City prize at the Smart City Expo World Congress. Since then, the city has expanded its leadership in smart city technology, and exported its knowledge to many other cities in different countries.
Israel’s unique startup ecosystem, fueled by a young culture of entrepreneurship, top-notch universities, and supported by the Israeli government, has put Israel at the top of innovation in digital fields such as Mobile, IoT, eHealth, and Smart Cities.
The Tel Aviv Foundation, a non-profit organization under the umbrella of Tel Aviv’s municipality, goes further in their Smart City strategy, promoting Tel Aviv technology and forming partnerships with other cities around the world.
To better understand its role, we spoke to Dr. Hila Oren, CEO of the Tel Aviv Foundation, during the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona.
You watch our interview with Dr. Oren below, a full transcript follows the clip.
Good morning Hila, thank you for your time. What can you tell us about Israel’s startup ecosystem today?
Hila Oren: The ecosystem, when you’re asking how is it formed? Who are the people? What is the day by day life? I think the ecosystem is built from grassroots. In Israel, we have our population of young entrepreneurs. There’s a culture that is not afraid of failure. We have our youngsters coming out of the army with all the knowledge; they got from there. And then, they form startups, and it’s legitimate to make your own business and if it doesn’t work after a year or two, you close it and you go to your next step. This is the beginning of the ecosystem. Then the municipality supports it, the government supports it, but the grassroots, the beginning of the ecosystem is the people and their culture as entrepreneurs. We at the municipality of Tel Aviv think it’s one of our biggest assets. And whoever reads the book “Startup Nation” understands where the startup city starts.
What role plays the Tel Aviv Foundation?
Hila Oren: The Tel Aviv Foundation is a 40-year-old organization, formed when the city and the country were in a totally different situation: entrepreneurship, innovation, startups were not yet in the scene. That was way back in the 1970s. Today, the foundation is still working traditionally to look for philanthropy, and partners all over [the world], but we understand that we have another role, to stretch the budget to look for new financial tools to support entrepreneurship in different ways, by attracting partners, matching dollar further with municipality money, and then elaborating on, and executing with different projects either by building on programs or innovation. In a way when we say that the Tel Aviv Foundation cracks the innovation code, it means that as city makers; we take off red tapes. We put red carpet so all our partners, whether from the public sector, or the private sector, can collaborate and work to execute new projects.
Tel Aviv was one of the first cities to be recognized with the Smart City Award, here in Barcelona. How this award helped to launch Tel Aviv’s technology abroad?
Hila Oren: In 2014, Tel Aviv won the Smart City Award. We were honored. We were lucky, and we were thrilled with the prize. We received the prize because our city digital card: Digitel Tel Aviv. Six years ago I would say it was new as a technology tool to understand how to listen to the residents, how to know their needs, and to understand how to give solutions to their needs by different communities by different neighborhoods. Since then, I think that award gave us really a lot of publicity and awareness about what is happening in Tel Aviv. So cities from all over the world started coming and learning from us. And actually the result of that was selling the digital card to a city in India called Thane. And from that on, we expanded our knowledge by doing this card for another city. This is just an example for something that different cities around the world can learn from us. This is what Tel Aviv did since the Smart City Award. In the last year, we also created our “city coin”, which is another tool, I would say a financial tool but also a technology tool. That really helps a smart city to reduce cost of living, to help the needs of different neighborhoods. Especially, we did a big project in Jaffa, where the poor and vulnerable of a different community can get the help out of this technology too.
Can you tell us a bit more about the “City Coin”?
Hila Oren: The “city coin” is an app that anyone can download on their phones. It’s not blockchain or any new technology, not a real coin. It’s just a term that the municipality backs up. You can use this coin to pay in different shops specifically in an area where there is a [financial] shock, and they needed that support. As a result, after three months of a specific campaign, 100 business joined and really, instead of going into bankruptcy, it gives them oxygen, and 4000 people from that neighborhood used it and gave testimonies of success. And we understand that this “coin” gave them another tool to reduce their cost of living. So when you look at it from both sides from the business side, and from the resident side, it really helped that neighborhood to survive. And when we ask yourself: what is a smart city? Isn’t that what it’s all about?
What is the Smart City Expo World Congress bringing to Tel Aviv, and what are your expectations for this year’s event?
Hila Oren: I think the Smart City conference in Barcelona is the focal point in the world, when people from all over come and meet for three days to exchange ideas, to network, to learn what is updated for now for me, I came to look into new ideas and new thoughts to work with the private sector, with Microsoft, to work with the public sector with the World Economic Forum, with Bloomberg associates, and with different organizations that could contribute to our knowledge at the Tel Aviv Foundation. And, when you go outside your country or your city, it also gives a different perspective on what you are doing at home, I think these three days helped us, supported us, and I’m looking forward to next year.