At the end of 2012, Google opened new office space in Electra Tower in Central Tel Aviv designed by Switzerland’s Camenzind Evolution in collaboration with Setter Architects and Studio Yaron Tal, featuring an array of creative and uniquely themed landscapes, including an indoor desert. Covering 8,000 square meters, the offices are spread across seven floors designed around themes like Friends & Family, Joy & Optimism, Energy & Vitality, Innovation & Hospitality, Dream & Delight, and Humor & Fun.A more fitting name for one of them is Blood, Sweat & Tears, or put more simply, Entrepreneurship.
When Google opened its new office space it debated about what it should do with extra square footage. “Yossi Matias [Managing Director, Israel R&D Center Executive Lead, Campus Tel Aviv and Senior Director, Search Google] told me there might be available space in the new building so how about doing something interesting,” says Eyal Miller, new business development principal at Google Israel. “We thought about doing an incubator or accelerator but then we thought it might be nice to do something more scalable and more tailored to the ecosystem.”
The result is Campus Tel Aviv, a practical one-floor event and community space aimed at encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship in the Israeli tech community.
Tel Aviv, the heart of the start-up nation, already has dozens of accelerators and incubators. What it needed was a hub that would allow participants from all of these to meet up for large community events, to hack and to learn together. Google has given the city exactly that.
Campus Tel Aviv holds regular events for members of the Israeli tech scene in its 1,500-square-meter community space. It offers access to Google staff and other industry experts and includes a device lab to give developers the chance to try out projects on a range of devices.
It also hosts a program unique to Israel called Launchpad — a two-week pre-accelerator program for early-stage start-ups, run in conjunction with partners including incubators, developer hubs and academic institutions. Launchpad covers subjects such as user interface, product strategy and technology, marketing, business development and analytic and measurement tools.
“The people behind Campus Tel Aviv have done a fantastic job in adding real value to the local start-up ecosystem,” says Gil Ben-Artzy, co-founder of UpWest Labs, one of Campus’s partners. “Their Bootcamp program is highly valuable, the device library is in constant use, and the space they offer for events is always in high demand. It is the combination of these three unique value propositions that make it a strong pillar of the local start-up scene.”
UpWest Labs partnered with Google Campus because it wanted to work with Google in helping to prepare Israeli start-ups for its Palo Alto-based accelerator program. By offering its start-ups an early focus on UI/UX, marketing foundations and pitch practices Google was able to give start-ups in UpWest Labs’ program a head start, and further refine their products and businesses, says Ben-Artzy.
Pretty much all of its start-ups have participated in the Google Campus Bootcamp prior to coming to UpWest Labs, attended an event in Google Campus, and/or spent time in the Google space in meetings or networking opportunities, he says.
One of them, Veed.Me, a video production marketplace that connects businesses that need videos with filmmakers, used the free Campus venue to organize a large event for businesses and film makers. “That really helped us,” says Yoav Hornung, Veed.Me’s co-founder and CEO. He says his start-up’s time on Campus was not just productive but lucrative, since Campus Tel Aviv ended up being an early adopter of its services.
“What is really interesting is getting a lot of Googly help,” says Liat Aaronson, executive director of the Zell Entrepreneurship Program Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, another of the Google Campus partners. “We came in with Zell and I spent a week on campus myself. For the first group it was during the middle of the year and it was a wonderful thing for them — sitting together all day with people from Google coming down the elevator, giving them ad hoc office hours and lectures — the students were thrilled by it.”
Serendipity also plays a role — and with the mixing comes a bit of magic. Start-ups being cultivated in different incubators don’t necessarily rub shoulders with each other or with a wider group of Tel Aviv’s more experienced entrepreneurs. Aaronson describes how one of Zell’s budding young entrepreneurs ended up being mentored for months by Lior Sion, the former chief technology officer of GetTaxi, one of Tel Aviv’s better-known start-ups, just because the two ended up sitting at the same table at Campus Tel Aviv one day.
An event space large enough to hold 100-200 people for non-profit events helps fill a real need, says Aaronson. “This was something that was missing in Tel Aviv. Nothing fancy but super cool and very well located. You sign up, book your own space, bring your own food, they are very liberal and open about it.”
Among those who have taken advantage of Campus Tel Aviv is a group called Campus for Moms, a baby-friendly start-up school for new mothers, run by Google in partnership with Yazamiyot, a networking group for Israeli women entrepreneurs. The courses include sessions led by successful entrepreneurs, investors, technology experts and others and cover topics such as cloud computing and tips on finance, legal issues and presentation skills.
At the end of the first program held on Campus the women presented their initiatives to venture capital funds and the course speakers. Two of the women-led start-ups later joined the Campus Tel Aviv Launchpad intensive week-long bootcamp for entrepreneurs, and one elected to visit Campus London to meet with UK-based entrepreneurs.
The opening of Campus Tel Aviv came nine months after the launch of Campus London and is part of Google’s efforts to foster entrepreneurship and innovation globally through a program called Google for Entrepreneurs. Michal Waltner, who is in charge of coordinating and support, along with the facilities team, have managed over 20,000 visitors and over 300 events in about nine months.
“Since starting up Google’s R&D Center in Israel I’ve been thinking about what can we do for startups and entrepreneurs, and moving to the new office presented the opportunity to finally do something at scale,” says Matias. “As the executive lead and initiator of Campus TLV, I have been working closely with the team building it up. It’s great to see the results and to hear the positive and often enthusiastic feedback from the community.”
Campus Tel Aviv is serving as a magnet not just for entrepreneurs but for local and foreign politicians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened Campus Tel Aviv, President Shimon Peres spent a morning there to meet some of the start-ups who’ve been a part of Campus, and mayors, government ministers and representatives from countries such as Denmark, Japan, Chile and Korea regularly stop by during tours of Tel Aviv, which is ranked just behind Silicon Valley as a top destination to start up a company.
Since its launch last December Campus Tel Aviv has been co-managed by Miller — who earlier in his Google career helped digitize the Yad Vashem archives and Dead Sea Scrolls — and Amir Shevat, Google Israel’s developer relations manager. In early 2014, Shevat will be moving to Mountain View, California to manage Google’s global start-up outreach, helping start-ups around the world launch and run successful businesses over Google developer platforms and open source platforms, and to provide an interface for start-ups to reach out and provide feedback to Google’s product teams.Shevat’s promotion is in large part recognition of the ambition and success of Campus Tel Aviv to date. “The feedback has been amazing, communities are getting formed, start-ups are becoming successful, there is an acknowledgement that we are accelerating the market, he says.
The new Launchpad program has worked so well in Israel that on October 7th Googlers from Tel Aviv traveled to Athens to introduce a similar program in Greece. If it works well there, the Launchpad program launched in Tel Aviv could end up expanding across the globe. “That is the Google way,” says Miller. And most would agree a pretty good result from nine months’ use of a little extra office space.