Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tel Aviv's Silicon Boulevard

Israel is a juggernaut of R&D: 4.5% of its economic output is immediately reinvested, making Israel number one in the world for R&D as a percentage of GDP. The Holy Land is home to R&D departments of some of the world’s most important tech companies, including Google, Microsoft, Oracle and Intel. And since Israel is such a small country - it takes just 50 minutes to drive from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv - it allows startups and established tech companies to choose office space on cost rather than location.

That said, there are clusters of high-tech industry in the town of Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, and in Ramat Gan and Ramat Hachayal in the city's northern suburbs. The country has a thriving tech-camp scene. TechAviv, a startup founders' club, has 2,000 members and meets monthly in Tel Aviv, New York, Silicon Valley and Boston, to showcase new work.

But the real buzz can be found in the cafés of Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard. Stretching from Neve Tzedek in the south roughly to midtown, Rothschild is an elegant, treelined avenue popular with pedestrians, cyclists and rollerbladers enjoying the city's almost unending sunshine. On the pedestrian walkway that runs down its centre, a strip of hip, outdoor cafés is home to creative types on their laptops, thanks in no little part to the city's free, widespread Wi-Fi network.

This is why Rothschild Boulevard - also known as the Silicon Boulevard -- has transformed itself into the home of many hot start-ups such as and Soluto. Some of them do not mind following in the footsteps of ICQ, 5Min, LabPixies and others, who have been scooped up by international tech giants.

Take the Gifts Project, for instance, set up by a handful of young enthusiastic employees sharing a tiny office with a balcony that looks out to Rothschild Boulevard and sports a huge logo of a pink pig. They've just been bought by the world's biggest online store eBay. Others want to strike out on their own. One of them is Soluto, a firm that aims to make computers more user-friendly and crowdsources technical support that helps computer users anywhere in the world, for free. Whatever their strategy, it seems that they are here to make an impact.

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