By Michael Bachner/TPS
Gush Etzion (TPS) – It started in an add-on to an Industrial Zone building. Less than a year later, it has a home of its own and a team to match.
Welcome to Hub Etzion, the first-ever work-sharing space in its region for Israel’s booming high-tech sector, The fantastic growth, in the Gush Etzion area just south of Jerusalem, has put smiles on the faces of the hub’s founders.
“We are really changing people’s perspectives,” Rachel Moore, co-founder of the hub, told Tazpit Press Service (TPS). “The work environment, with all the entrepreneurs, enables workers to believe they can succeed. A translator came to work here, not very ‘high-tech,’ and within two months she had told me she started to think bigger.”
Hub Etzion, also founded by Amy Shuter, started operating in May 2015 and officially launched six months later. The hub is mainly home to start-up founders but also hosts accountants, translators, web designers, and graphic designers.
The hub’s office is small, 340 square meters and approximately 20 workers. But Moore told TPS she aims to continue her hub’s trend of continued growth.
“We want to triple the number of employees,” said Moore. “At first, people would tell us nobody would use our services, claiming that everyone would go to Jerusalem. They would ask us what a hub was, but now after our growth, they say they have heard of us.”
The hub’s office was originally built only as an add-on to a building located in the Gush Etzion Industrial Zone and owned by Sam Michelson, a local entrepreneur originally from the United States.
“I built an extra space and had various ideas of what to do with it,” Michelson told TPS. “The most interesting idea was to build a hub, so that people in Gush Etzion could get together, work, and share ideas.”
Michelson said that his plans for a hub were not moving forward, but by coincidence Rachel Moore had the same concept as Michelson.
“She asked me if she could rent the space to build a hub in Gush Etzion, and I was thrilled,” Michelson told TPS. “ It is exciting to have a dream and then find out that someone else has the same dream and is actually going to do it.”
Michelson and Moore created a team that has only grown in number.
“Within a few months, this has really become a place where people come together and share ideas,” noted Michelson.
“We worked very hard to bring investors from abroad and succeeded,” Moore said to TPS. “Sam said we should just get some people to sit at a table here and simply start working and to be early adopters. This way we could see if there was demand, and we could also create facts on the ground.”
Members of the hub see the importance of a healthy and welcoming work environment.
“We have to pay attention and focus on the character of the place,” said Chai Sokoloff, a user experience and user interface designer. “Having a quality work environment is crucial in attracting more start-ups.”
Having attracted investors and companies from all over Israel and abroad, the hub has overcome inevitable hurdles. These include efforts by the anti-Israel BDS movement to sanction and boycott Jewish-Israeli businesses in Judea and Samaria.
“It is interesting to see each company’s strategy for dealing with BDS,” Sokoloff explained to TPS. “We work with a start-up with customers all over the world. We are proud they are here, but there only online presence connects to headquarters in the US. For now, they feel have no choice.”
Moore made it clear to TPS that she and her hub remain undeterred about its location in Judea.
“I want to succeed while saying out loud, without shame, that we are in Gush Etzion,” she said. “We have nothing to apologize for and nothing to hide. I think once we do this, more people will also open such places.”
In addition to facing challenges posed by BDS, residents and businesses of Gush Etzion also face the threat of terror attacks. Moore recalled a recent incident in which she invited Jackson Wightman, owner of a major Canadian public relations firm, to visit the hub.
“We asked [Wightman] to come and speak in Gush Etzion,” Moore told TPS. “Several days before he was scheduled to visit, there was a terror attack at the Gush Etzion Junction, and I was sure he would cancel.”
“He then sent an email, and I was afraid to read it. But he wrote: ‘I saw there was an attack, I hope everyone is okay, and I’m excited to come over and speak.’
“He came and spoke and then returned to Canada with a completely different image of what the ‘West Bank’ was,” added Moore, who remains hopeful and optimistic.
“I think we are starting to change the perception of Gush Etzion,” said Moore. “At first, people told us that nobody would come from central Israel. And when we recently had a conference on digital marketing attended by 80 people, only a third were residents of Gush Etzion.
“We always said ‘if we build it, they will come.’ And we were right.”
TPS / Tazpit News Agency