Jerusalem Mayor Brings Entrepreneurship to Municipal Government
Nir Barkat is an entrepreneur to his very core. Having just completed the New York Marathon, the ninth Mayor of Jerusalem was in his element on Wednesday, sharing his experiences and advice with a group of Colorado high tech entrepreneurs gathered at the Denver Art Museum for a special edition Entrepreneurs Unplugged event from Silicon Flatirons.
Larry Mizel, Chairman and CEO of MDC Holding, Inc. introduced Governor Bill Ritter to kick off the event. Governor Ritter, interrupting a Governors Association phone conference on the health care bill to speak at the event, discussed Colorado’s efforts to establish a New Energy Economy here, as well as developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem around Colorado’s strengths in Energy, Life Sciences, Aerospace and Information and Communications Services. These four business areas, plus Tourism, constitute the “pillars of Colorado’s economy.” Governor Ritter also said that one of the best qualities of entrepreneurs is that they “turn obstacles into opportunities,” and pointed at Mayor Barkat’s career as a great example of that principle.
Mayor Barkat has been mayor of Jerusalem for just under a year, but he spent the preceding five years (after an unsuccessful run for mayor) as head of the opposition on the Municipal Council. Losing that first race and deciding to head the opposition on the Municipal Council “was my biggest gift on the way to public service success,” he said. In the first place, it allowed him five years to develop and hone his vision of where he wanted Jerusalem to be. In the second place, it gave him five years to recruit and train the team he was then ready to put in place the moment he was elected last year.
First the vision. While leader of the opposition, Mayor Barkat recruited strategy guru Michael Porter to help develop his vision process and to help identify and analyze Jerusalem’s competitive advantages. Mayor Barkat’s resulting vision is to turn Israel’s poorest city into one rich in culture, youth, education, lasting economic development and tourism. To execute this vision, he decided to focus on three business clusters: Cultural Tourism, Bio-tech and Outsourcing of Professional Services.
Again, using his experiences as an entrepreneur, venture capitalist and philanthropist (not to mention having been a Major in the Israel Defense Forces – IDF – Paratroops) Mayor Barkat executed his process of “plan, pilot, adjust, go.” He piloted many of his ideas via an organization he founded called “Start Up Jerusalem”, which provided marketing and other business expertise to young entrepreneurs in tourism and biotech.
His strategy around Cultural Tourism presents an enormous opportunity for Jerusalem (as well as some familiar, and not so familiar, obstacles). “After all, Jerusalem has a 3,000- year-old brand” and a market of three billion people throughout the world that would want to visit at least once in their lives. Mayor Barkat researched the opportunity with some of Jerusalem’s biggest competitors: Mayor Bloomberg told him that New York hosts 48 million visits a year, and the mayor of Rome told him that city hosts 40 million. Jerusalem’s number is two million visitors. So, then-Councilman Barkat, working with the leaders of different faith communities around the world, set a goal of ten million visitors. He then quantified the impacts and changes that would be needed in Jerusalem to accommodate success, such as needing 20,000 additional hotel rooms and a completely different public transportation model. Mayor Barkat believes that besides the economic effects, what makes tourism so important is that “people who come to Jerusalem become ambassadors for peace.”
Similarly with biotech, Mayor Barkat identified Jerusalem’s strengths are in Hadassah Hospital, Hebrew University and the associated research labs and pharma companies that make up Jerusalem’s biotech ecosystem. His model in this area is San Diego, which has successfully integrated university laboratories and many biotech companies.
The plans he drew up based on this five-year period of research and piloting become part of the coalition agreement he put in place within his municipal government, thus greatly increasing the likelihood of success.
Following Mayor Barkat’s address came a Q&A session moderated by Brad Bernthal, Associate Clinical Professor of Law, University of Colorado Law School and Entrepreneurship Initiative Director of Silicon Flatirons Center; and Robert Reich, Founder of OneRiot and Host and Moderator of New Tech Meetup. During this discussion, Mayor Barkat offered some definitions and qualities of true entrepreneurs. They:
- Seek solutions outside of the box
- See paradigm shifts before anyone else
- See the future different than most people
- Are very stubborn
- Attract great people around them and keep them (“A players bring in other A players; B players bring in C players”)
- Can’t be “created” or “controlled.”
Some things Mayor Barkat thinks were very valuable from his time in the IDF: “the army teaches you to manage risk, optimize results, process, and discipline.”
Mayor Barkat also talked up Israel’s business environment as well as its entrepreneurial spirit. “Israel has $2 billion to $3 billion of capital deployed annually” — it would be the third “state” behind California and Massachusetts in the US. He credited three things in the “Israeli DNA” that drive success there: one, the Israeli market is not very big, so Israeli companies have to “go global” almost immediately; two, Israelis are strong out-of-the-box thinkers; and three, Israelis are driven to make a difference and have an impact.
Dr. Gilad Gordon, who drove down from Boulder for this session, summed up the thoughts of probably many in the audience: “When is this guy going to run for Prime Minister?” I suspect the answer would be, only after he succeeds in Jerusalem, and only after he studies and creates a new plan.