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Small business goes big on Israel’s frontier

CM 12/08/2021

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The global COVID-19 pandemic left many small businesses in Israel reeling with uncertainty about their future, yet for business owners in Israel’s Negev and Galilee, a new Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA) initiative is giving local entrepreneurs access to new customers, new technology, and a new way of doing business. 

As many small business owners will attest to, few things in life are as difficult as running your own business. However, when you’re a small family business located in a remote community in Israel’s Negev or Galilee, the distance from larger consumer markets presents a unique challenge.
JNF-USA’s Lauder Employment Center (LEC), in partnership with JNF-USA’s Western Galilee Now business consortium, have begun providing and designing solutions for small businesses under a newly established Small Business Association (SBA). 
JNF-USA’s SBA is already helping small business owners with digital marketing, online sales, and with overcoming the challenges of delivering and transporting goods throughout Israel. 
The SBA’s first program has been dubbed “E-Commerce 360,” which will establish an online marketing and sales system for small business in the Negev and Galilee. 
“The strength of an artist is not necessarily in website UX design or logistics management,” explains Tamar Gil Menachem, Associate Director of the Lauder Employment Center. “We are empowering small businesses to focus on their core competencies while giving them the guidance and tools to excel in other areas of their business.”
The SBA has done the work selecting and contracting local service providers in these areas, and each business can select which of these services they would like to use.
“It has not been easy for anyone,” said Adi Amram Fahimi, manager of E-Commerce 360 SBA. “We understand that the reality is changing and there is a change in the market. Businesses can see the need to have an online presence in order to continue selling.”
“Some businesses in Israel’s Negev and Galilee were able to make the switch on their own [to selling online], while others have struggled to keep up with the changes either due to a fear of technology, lack of funds, or they have not yet come to terms with the importance of the digital changes and social media in the world of e-commerce,” said Amram Fahimi.
And while some small businesses have been able to set-up an online presence that allows them to take orders for shipping, for many, the high cost of shipping from the periphery has proven to be the breaking point.
“People can love my products online, but if the shipping adds 30 or 40 percent to the cost, they won’t buy anything,” said Ayelet Kasis, 45, who runs Ayelita, a boutique art studio from her home in the small Negev community of Mabuim. “Subsidized shipping was really a clincher for me. It allows people to buy from me and I can ship the products to them at an affordable price. It’s a huge plus.”  
Amram Fahimi noted that through its personalized approach, the program is helping businesses transform their sales format to enter the new digital era.
The establishment of an exclusive JNF-USA SBA club will serve as an added incentive for businesses to join the initiative, giving them access to a growing community of online businesses as well as to visiting JNF-USA delegations and prospective new customers.
“We want to build a community and help businesses stay here,” said Amram Fahimi. “We want people to be a part of the club and dream big, and even think about selling their products abroad in the future.”
“Over the past six months, the SBA has created a collective joint impact initiative bringing in almost all the municipalities in the Negev, along with Sapir Academic College and the Small and Medium Business Administration of the Ministry of Economy,” said Gil Menachem. 
“Through our work with JNF-USA affiliates, we were able to create this regional movement to support small businesses. Now all the local mayors are on board. They understand that only through a collaborative effort can we create change,” said Gil Menachem. 
In addition, she said, for many years small businesses owners have been told that they should be able to manage everything from websites to social media and sales on their own, with the government offering a plethora of courses aimed at teaching them how to do “everything.” But the E-Commerce 360 SBA program acknowledges that this is not a realistic expectation. 
For Inbal Duvdevani, 44, who moved back to the south from Tel Aviv when her children were born, and runs her made-to-order jewelry studio in Kibbutz Nirim, the financial support has helped her create a website and reach a broader audience.
“I didn’t have a website for sales; it is very expensive to create,” said Duvdevani. My studio is in the south and in a kibbutz, and it can be hard for people to reach. This is a chance to bring people ‘closer’ to me, in the country and maybe even in the world. Now I have closed a deal with a designer and we can start to work. Living in the Gaza Envelope isn’t easy, not to mention managing a business, however, it’s nice here and I want my children to grow up like I did with wide open spaces.”
The project started recruiting businesses in late April, meeting with 120 businesses before the process was temporarily interrupted in May by the conflict in Gaza, said Gil Menachem. Since resuming the recruitment process, they have closed deals with some 51 businesses who have joined the program. 
The goal for Jewish National Fund-USA’s Small Business Association is to reach 100 small businesses in its first year of operation. 
“We have been very lucky to have JNF-USA on-board, together with the Small and Medium Business Administration, said Gil Menachem” “We do not want this to be 100 percent ‘charity.’ We are trying to change the way businesses work so they understand that they need to continuously invest in their own businesses to succeed, and for that you need to work with professionals and a support network.”

Source: Jerusalem Post

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