White City, Tel Aviv: Code, Party, Repeat

Fawn Fitter

Imagine a city where there’s about one startup for every 430 people. Where there are so many tiny tech companies that more than 50 hubs have cropped up to support them. Where, when they get big enough to need their own space, they find it downtown—steps away from the city’s financial and cultural center.

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Working at Wix

Welcome to Tel Aviv. With only 420,000 residents in 20 square miles along the  Mediterranean coast, it’s nonetheless ranked fifth among the world’s leading digital startup ecosystems, behind Silicon Valley, New York City, Los Angeles, and Boston. And it’s ranked first outside the United States, ahead of London. It has a reputation for launching winners like streaming entertainment startup Boxee, acquired by Samsung in 2013 for US$30 million; and DIY web publishing platform Wix, which has 85 million users in 190 countries and a market capitalization of more than $1 billion.

“Entrepreneurship is in the city’s DNA,” says Mira Marcus, international press director for Tel Aviv’s municipality. “It’s been our basic culture ever since the founders of modern Tel Aviv laid the first cornerstone on the sand dunes outside of ancient Jaffa in 1909. Launching a startup in your apartment is just what people do here.”

2016_Q3_creators_feature_images2Much of this activity centers on Tel Aviv’s original downtown, including a part of the neighborhood better known as White City, so called for its numerous white International- and Bauhaus-style buildings. In fact, the area was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003 for having the world’s largest concentration of Bauhaus and International architecture. Nearby is Rothschild Boulevard, a wide street with a central pedestrian median lined with ficus trees.

Rothschild Boulevard and its surroundings are Israel’s financial heart, home to its stock market and its most expensive real estate. But this is also where small tech companies loom. In most cities, this prime real estate would be snapped up by the local offices of large multinationals. So would much of the talent. But Tel Aviv’s financial district is also its arts district, with a mix of office buildings and residences. Most tech giants need larger facilities than the neighborhood can offer. They tend to rent or build on the outskirts of the city, leaving the workspaces downtown to smaller companies.

That gives startups an edge in more ways than one. In a city where the competition for engineering and design talent is fierce, startups can counter a high salary in a suburban office with the chance to live downtown, commute by bike, lunch at Tel Aviv’s best restaurants, and head straight from the office to the neighborhood’s rollicking nightlife.

“Even early stage startups with small amounts of funding want to be in the center of town, because that’s where the collaborative ecosystem is,” Marcus says. “They want to be close to each other to network—and so they can go to the bars together when they leave the office at 2 a.m.”

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Innovators gather at the DLD Tel Aviv Innovation Festival

Given how small and densely populated Tel Aviv is, though, digital entrepreneurs are everywhere. Start-Up Nation Central, an independent nonprofit that calls itself “the authoritative source on the Israeli innovation community,” reports 1,417 active tech startups within the city limits—one for every 296 residents. It also lists 55 co-working spaces, entrepreneurship programs, and accelerators.

In addition, since 2012, Tel Aviv has hosted the annual DLD Tel Aviv Innovation Festival (the initials stand for Digital Life Design), an international gathering where entrepreneurs can mingle with venture capitalists, angel investors, and global tech giants. Last year, the citywide event drew 10,000 attendees, including 3,000 from 53 countries other than Israel, according to the newspaper Ha’aretz.

The city promotes the invitation-only event as an annual must-see, Marcus says, and no wonder. It exemplifies the most tech-centric city in a country with more tech startups and venture capital funding per person than any other. Like Tel Aviv itself, the DLD Innovation Festival is cutting edge yet casual, exclusive yet exuberant, drawing attention disproportionate to its size. D!

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Where to eat:

a_button_goldMessa International fusion

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Catit French/Arab/Mediterranean

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Milgo and Milbar Seafood

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Jaffa-Tel Aviv Contemporary Israeli

Where to stay: 

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The Rothschild Hotel

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The Norman Tel Aviv

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The Alma Hotel and Lounge

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Hilton Tel Aviv

 

Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.


Fawn Fitter

About Fawn Fitter

Fawn Fitter is based in San Francisco, where she writes about the spots where business and technology intersect.