Advanced Technologies Park: An ecosystem of tech innovation in southern Israel

Advanced Technologies Park in Beer-Sheva, Israel is a public-private collaboration designed to promote development in data storage, cybersecurity, telecommunications, nanotech, and pharmaceuticals.

Future rendition of the Advanced Technologies Park in Beer-Sheva, Israel
Image: BGU

For the Advanced Technologies Park (ATP) at Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev, located in the Israeli city of Beer-Sheva, the ultimate vision is as high as the desert sun.

Inaugurated in September 2013, the park is the brainchild of former BGU president Prof. Avishay Braverman. "My dream that Ben-Gurion University will do for Beer-Sheva what Stanford University did for Silicon Valley begins," said Braverman in a message pre-recorded for the inauguration (PDF). Also present at the ceremony were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, current BGU president Rivka Carmi, and several Israeli government ministers.

Founded in 1969, BGU renamed itself four years later to honor David Ben-Gurion, founding father of the modern state of Israel and its first prime minister. He predicted that the open southern Negev region would play a key role in the country's development, and retired to a kibbutz in the area prior to his death in 1973. BGU is the third largest university in Israel.

Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, Israel
Image: Jason Hiner

The ATP is a public-private collaboration between BGU, the city of Beer-Sheva, and KUD International LLC, the project's developer. In the eyes of its promoters, the ATP builds on key Israeli competencies in high-tech research and entrepreneurship, and is designed to bring together academia, students, and the private sector to promote development in data storage, cybersecurity, telecommunications, nanotechnology, and pharmaceuticals.

The plan is to eventually have 16 buildings on 23 acres adjacent to the main BGU campus and the future base of the Israeli Defense Force's (IDF) elite technology units. At present, the first building is complete and the second is under construction.


Building #1 of the ATP in Beer-Sheva, Israel
Image: BGU

The list of the ATP's confirmed tenants is impressive: Deutsche Telekom, EMC-RSA, NESS, Allscripts-dbMotion, Oracle, the Elbit Incubit incubator, Dalet, JVP's CyberLabs incubator, and BGN Technologies, the technology transfer company of BGU.

"10 years from now in the southern part of Israel, Beer-Sheva is going to be an important area for high-tech," said Netta Cohen, CEO of BGN Technologies, in a telephone interview with TechRepublic.

The projected job growth in Beer-Sheva, Mr. Cohen explained, will be an economic boon for the area. "From 100 high-tech people the city, we now have 1,100. We're going to have 11,000 jobs later on, and with the high-tech units of the (Israeli) Army that are going to join the area, then we're going to have 25,000 high-tech jobs. It's an important step both for the city and the region."

"There are many seeds that I am sure are going to flourish," said Mr. Cohen, in reference to the ATP. "Israel used to be all desert, and we know how to make the desert bloom."

A flowering of sorts is currently taking place in the Negev, thanks in part to high-profile stakeholders in the Israeli government and in multinational companies.

At a January 2014 conference in Davos, Switzerland with global elites in business and politics, Prime Minister Netanyahu devoted the first half of his speech to his nation's high-tech abilities, before turning to international issues like Iranians and the Palestinians. Netanyahu told the audience at Davos that Israel intends to become one of the top three countries for cybersecurity.

"The expectation is that due to our special circumstances, Israel can provide a wide range of solutions in this field," Mr. Netanyahu later said to the Israeli cabinet.

On the heels of Davos, the prime minister attended the CyberTech 2014 conference in Tel Aviv at the end of January 2014 to announce a major cybersecurity initiative. Along with IBM, Lockheed Martin, and EMC, the government of Israel announced a new national cybersecurity park at BGU called CyberSpark. It will be a joint venture between the government of Israel, BGU, and the city of Beer-Sheva.

CyberTech 2014: (Left to right) Beer-Sheva Mayor Ruvik Danilovich, Prime Minister Netanyahu, IBM's Vice President Steven Mills, BGU President Rivka Carmi

"Beer-Sheva will not only be the cyber capital of Israel but one of the most important places in the cybersecurity field in the world," said Prime Minister Netanyahu at the opening of the conference.

EMC and Lockheed Martin have together pledged to invest $1 million in a cybersecurity development center at the CyberSpark project.

The Israeli National Cyber Bureau, under the Prime Minister's office, has budgeted approximately $23.8 million (NIS 80 million) over the next two years to support Israeli companies, in conjunction with CyberSpark.

EMC, according to Cohen, was very instrumental and cooperative in promoting the ATP, being the first company to join.

Lockheed Martin's VP of Global Solutions, Robert Eastman, said to The Jerusalem Post in January 2014 that "I think it's phenomenal what they're trying to do. I've never seen such a collaboration in the incubation of new technology. Israel is one of the best when we look at cyberdefense, and it also is one of the best incubators of new technology and innovation."

"The incubators," in the first building of the ATP, said Cohen, "are very important for us—to create the ecosystem, which is startups, innovation, and investment in the region. And together with the multinationals it is creating a very nice start for (the ATP)."

Also in January 2014, BGU and IBM announced a new Center for Excellence for Security and Protection of Assets in Beer-Sheva. The project will build a professional training curriculum, and conduct research into cloud computing, big data, and the Internet of Things.

Deutsche Telekom (DT) and BGU have expanded the German multinational's presence in its Innovation Laboratories at the university. Now in its 10th year, the site is DT's only R&D facility outside of Germany. The DT labs at BGU focus on network security, recommender systems, and big data.

Many of the largest tech companies in the world have research centers in Israel, some of which date back to the 1970s.

"There is amazing leadership at the university," said Cohen. "Most places are about research only, but BGU is looking for cooperation with the industry and applied research. For me it is really amazing what is happening at the university."

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By Brian Taylor

Brian Taylor is a contributing writer for TechRepublic. He covers the tech trends, solutions, risks, and research that IT leaders need to know about, from startups to the enterprise. Technology is creating a new world, and he loves to report on it.