The auditorium at Yitzchak Shavit Sha’ar HaNegev High School was filled to capacity on June 22nd as 350 of the best and brightest minds from throughout Israel joined together to do what they do best: problem solve.
In this case, the problem was – and still is – the onslaught of incendiary kites and balloons that have plagued the San Diego Federation’s Sister City and partnership region for months. Dubbed the ‘Terror Kite Hack-a-Thon,’ the event was the brainchild of Elad Yeori, CEO of SouthUp, a technology incubator founded in 2015 between San Diegans and Israelis to address economic, social, and educational issues in the Sha’ar HaNegev region of the Jewish State.
“SouthUp is involved in this region with the goal of supporting a region that’s been hard hit with years of missiles coming from Gaza,” says Larry Acheatel, co-founder and board member of the organization. “Given that it is right on the border with Gaza, the goal is to find ways to help the region be resilient in spite of the terror situation, and to thrive and attract people to live there by helping to provide quality education and jobs. SouthUp is one tool in their toolbox.”
Registered as an amutah (non-profit) in Israel, SouthUp accepted nine start-ups during its first-round of outreach and is currently vetting 40 applications during a second round. Companies in diverse fields such as technology, finance, and agriculture are housed in two locations – a renovated building and an unused kibbutz dining hall.
News of the hack-a-thon went viral and less than a week after it was announced, individuals, organizations, and government bodies from throughout Israel, including the IDF, Air Force, Mossad, police, and firefighting entities registered to attend.
The day-long program addressed three issues:
1. How to detect kites and balloons
2. How to destroy kites and balloons
3. How to cope with resulting fires from kites and balloons that aren’t destroyed
Participants self-selected themselves into 14 groups and shared ideas with each other; some were able to even test their concepts in live time. Communication of ideas is continuing via What’sApp, email, google docs, and other platforms. Along with its general mission in the region, South Up will continue to serve as the umbrella of support for ideas to be put into practice.
Acheatel says the overwhelming response to the hack-a-thon – the registration site had to be shut down – was due to the problem being real and present in the lives of Israelis. More than 250 fires have burned 4,300 acres or nearly seven square miles of land in two months, half of it in nature reserves.
“No one was doing this for a prize,” he points out. “They are doing it to solve a real problem. Everybody knows the kites are burning the forests and have been going on for months. It’s frustrating. We’ve got to figure out a way to stop this.”
Among hack-a-thon ideas to ‘stop this’ were developing a drone that is outfitted with a propellant that would cause a burst of fire when steered close to a kite or helium balloon and destroy the device (think mini Iron Dome), and a device that would be able identify people in a crowd who were trying to fly or control a kite using a long-distance optic system.
The SouthUp co-founder who also sits on the Federation board hopes news of SouthUp and the hack-a-thon will help show San Diegans the work of Federation and efforts it supports.
“San Diego,” he says, “is making an impact in the region and in Israel.”
For local residents of Sha’ar HaNegev, the work of SouthUp and the hack-a-thon is evidence that they are not alone.
“This shows people care for this community,” Acheatel explains. “Whether you are from the north of Israel, the south, the center, or halfway around the world in San Diego, it empowers them to know that people care about them.”