Is Tel Aviv City of the Year?

Finalist entrepreneur spotlight: Yaron Galai of Tel Aviv talks about the attractions of this Israeli city

General News

Citi and the Wall Street Journal have teamed up to name the "City of the Year," an award given to the most innovative city. Based on a combination of judging from the Urban Land Institute and popular vote, New York City is one of the three finalists for the title of "City of the Year."

Yaron Galai is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Outbrain. Prior to founding Outbrain, Yaron was Co-Founder, SVP of Quigo, Inc., a provider of performance-based marketing solutions for advertisers and premium publishers. Outbrain provides personalized recommendations across a network of premium publishers. Through Outbrain's all-in-one content discovery solution, publishers, brands and marketers are able to amplify their audience engagement by driving traffic to their content - on their site and around the web. Founded in 2006, the company is headquartered in New York, with 15 offices globally.

Visit the City of the Year website to vote for Medellín, Tel Aviv, or New York City.

Q: Why do you think Tel Aviv should be chosen for 'City of the Year'?
Tel Aviv specifically, and Israel at large, has the rare combination of ingredients need to spur innovation. It has a risk-taking, entrepreneurial culture which was described wonderfully in the book Startup Nation. It provides a great community of innovators that cluster together and provide the critical support network needed to spur innovation. As I said above - triggering a community like that is a big chicken & egg problem, which is why it happened in so few places in the world and Tel Aviv is one of those rare examples. On top of culture and community, Tel Aviv offers a great network of service providers that can support entrepreneurs - VC's, lawyers, accountants, IT providers, bankers, etc, etc. Many cities might have great law firms, or brand name banks. But very few of those are actually tuned to be able to support the very specific needs of early stage, risk-taking innovators. Lastly - Tel Aviv is a great city to live and work in - it's sunny, has a great beach, vibrant city with a diverse community.

Q: What is the best way you think cities can encourage innovators like you?
A culture of innovation is likely bigger than any single city can hope to create. The question for cities that are within a culture of innovation is how to encourage and attract entrepreneurs to cluster together in their city. There are a bunch of trivial things cities need to do to attract the young, smart, educated community which usually spurs innovation, such as - great public transportation, affordable housing, vibrant city centers with restaurants, etc. On top of that, cities could help lower the barriers and complexities involved with starting companies. In the early days of a startup the entrepreneurs face a huge variety of challenges they need to overcome, leaving little time for the innovation itself. If a city can reduce some of these challenges for early-stage companies, that will attract and encourage innovators. Things like ease of leasing commercial space, easing city taxes in the first years of a startup, availability of shared work spaces for the very early days of hacking innovation, etc - all these little barrier removers can have a big positive cumulative effect for companies that are strapped for resources.

Q: How important do you think community is for innovation?
Very! Few people realize how much of a roller coaster it is to be an entrepreneur, start a company, and try to innovate by doing something that no one else has done before. It's a roller coaster of funding, of gathering and inspiring a team, of figuring our product issues, legal & IP issues, marketing, etc, etc, etc. Each one of these things, and numerous others, can have life-threatening effects on one's startup, making this a huge emotional roller coaster as well. However, most innovators jump into this because they were excited about the innovation itself, not because they got excited with the legal aspects of setting up, or because they love raising capital. The only way to get some sense of perspective, as well as material help from other's experience, is by having a thriving community of entrepreneurs and innovators. Hearing that your challenges are shared by others, and benefiting from the combined experience of your community, is priceless as it relates to innovation.

Q: What is your greatest source of inspiration?
I was very inspired by the NASA space missions of the 60's (greatly depicted in the series "When We Left Earth") - I recommend every entrepreneur watch that series. The amount of innovation and technological breakthroughs achieved in that decade is mind-boggling. It's inspiring to see how much can be achieved when smart people get together and focus intensively on a very specific mission, and its always a good reminder of the scale of what's achievable when we think that our technology challenges at a startup are difficult to overcome.

Q: How do you think Tel Aviv contributes to innovation?
Tel Aviv, like Silicon Valley, is a place where people in the tech community can easily connect, network, learn from each other and get inspired from other innovators. Whether it's in meetups (like the TechAviv meetup) or conferences like DLD and Journey, or even just by grabbing a coffee with fellow startups or VC's in Rotschild Boulevard. Getting a thriving community like that is one of the most helpful things for encouraging entrepreneurship, and one of the trickiest ingredients to kick start because it's initially a chicken-and-egg problem. Therefore only a handful of places in the world like Tel-Aviv, Silicon Valley, Boston, Berlin, etc have been able to achieve that magic of a thriving community that helps inspire others and grow. But community is not enough for spurring innovation. The other ingredient that Tel Aviv (and Israel at large) provides is an environment that encourages risk-taking (of the good kind!). Entrepreneurs that have an idea, try it, don't succeed in their first try, and go back to try a second time are celebrated in Tel Aviv, not frowned upon.

For more information on Citi and WSJ's City of the Year competition and to vote for Medellín, Tel Aviv, or New York City, click here.