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For tech companies near Gaza, rockets are ‘back to the routine’

CM 11/05/2021 1

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For hi-tech companies located in the towns around the Gaza Strip, the current flare-up is a return to an old, familiar situation.
“When people talk about getting back into our routines after corona, for us, rockets are the routine,” says Keren Magen, operations director at SouthUp, an organization bringing technology companies to the Israeli towns surrounding Gaza in order to strengthen the local economy. The organization has helped 16 companies set up operations in recent years in its three incubators around the Gaza envelope.
“Today, people are working from home due to the security situation,” Magen said. “But that’s how the companies here operate. Every day, we check the latest instructions about traveling to work, and we adjust. The companies that are here aren’t scared by the situation. If we can’t come to the office, we work from home.”
Most of the companies in SouthUp’s three incubator locations – two in Shaar Hanegev, and one in Kibbutz Nir-Am – have gone back to remote work in the past days.
Despite the current security challenges, a growing number of hi-tech start-ups have been moving their operations from the crowded center of the country to periphery towns, to benefit from a more diverse and less competitive pool of talent, lower costs, and a number of government incentives and tax breaks.
Elementor, a company considered one of Israel’s most promising start-ups, launched in March a 24-hour customer service assistance center in Sderot, a town less than a kilometer from Gaza that is a frequent target for missiles. The company, whose site editing product is one of the most popular WordPress plug-ins in the world, said that the decision to open there was “a combination of a business need along with contributing to creating quality jobs in the western Negev region.”
Growee, a four-year-old company making software and devices for small-scale hydroponic farmers, moved in late 2019 from Tel Aviv to Nir-Am, just adjacent to Sderot. The company was initially attracted largely because of a 75% government grant from the Innovation Authority available for businesses in the region, said Keren Shechner, the company’s co-founder and head of business development. But other factors, like the proximity to other Kibbutz manufacturers and a desire to help build up the region, made the move a good fit. She and her partner in the business understood the challenges of living next to Gaza.

“COVID made the move to this area really easy for us,” Shechner said with a laugh. “We had a good stretch of time when things were quiet, with no rockets. We had rockets before COVID, and obviously, the pandemic period was very challenging, but we feel happy here. Usually, when the security situation flares up, we work from home at least on the first day so we can juggle work and our family’s needs. Sometimes, you need to run to the safe room, but we try to keep working and do our best.”
Other companies that have recently moved south from the center include Mindtention, which designs technology to objectively measure ADHD symptoms, and Bariks Health, which develops a pneumatic health product for medical use. Other companies have expressed interest in moving as well, Magen said.
Thus far SouthUp companies have helped bring $35 million in investment capital and created more than 100 new jobs in the area, the organization says.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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