Shaping Israel’s tech future
Nir Kouris addresses a Tomorrow Israel gathering. (photo from israel21c.org)
Nir Kouris is one of those hyper-accomplished young Israelis who cannot be described in a single phrase. Digital brand manager, tech evangelist, growth hacker, startup mentor, technology conference organizer, wearable-tech adviser, IoT enthusiast – these are all apt labels, but he prefers to call himself simply “a person who loves the future.”
He does not only mean that he loves futuristic technologies, though he really, really does. His passion is nurturing Israel’s future tech leaders by connecting them with peers and experts across the world.
In addition to NK Corporate Digital Strategy, the business he started in 2003 at age 20, Kouris got the ball rolling with eCamp, co-founded in 2008 to bring Israeli and overseas kids together for an American-style summer experience in technology. He founded Innovation Israel – a community for Israeli startups, entrepreneurs, investors, venture capitalists, angels and developers – together with Ben Lang, an American eCamper who moved to Israel five years later at age 18.
Kouris has organized Hackathon Israel, Tel Aviv Hackathon Day and World Hackathon Day, all attracting hundreds of young programmers. In 2014, he helped launch Israel’s first Wearable Tech Conference, headlined by Silicon Valley trendsetters.
Perhaps Kouris’ most ambitious endeavor is Tomorrow Israel, a movement to boost technology education and opportunities in Israel through worldwide collaboration.
“When I was 12, I read a book that changed my life, Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty,” Kouris told Israel21c. This bestselling guide to networking taught him, “If you want to be somebody, go to tech conferences.” And so he did.
“I was always the youngest person at these events and, at one of them, a Microsoft marketing manager asked me what I was doing there; I was only a kid. I promised myself to treat people equally, to listen to people of all ages, because nobody did that for me. That’s why I always dedicate time to young people,” said Kouris, who turns 34 in May.
At the Israeli Presidential Conference Facing Tomorrow, held annually from 2008 to 2013 at the behest of former president Shimon Peres, Kouris was dismayed to see no young faces among the distinguished presenters and few in the audience.
“I proposed creating Tomorrow Israel to take Peres’ vision into reality, a global movement connecting Israeli teens to others using the universal language of technology,” he explained. “I don’t believe in waiting for government officials and people with titles to take responsibility. I believe in regular people taking responsibility for our lives – not for fame, but because we really care and we love doing it.”
At first, Kouris rented venues to present workshops and lectures, and then Google Campus in Tel Aviv offered free space. Global technology gurus began accepting his invitations to Tomorrow Israel meetups, and he started sponsoring local and national conferences and hackathons for kids from Israel and elsewhere.
The Tomorrow movement has spread to Holland, the United Kingdom, India, America and Australia. Though there’s no official age limit, most participants are under 21.
“It’s not an age, but a way of thinking. We attract people wanting to make their countries better through entrepreneurship,” Kouris said. “It’s like a VC for people. Tomorrow is all about smart and good people because being a good person matters most.”
The Amsterdam municipality, Google for Education and other entities have approached Kouris about collaborating with Tomorrow. Members are forming teams and launching projects together via national and international Tomorrow Facebook groups. Kouris is proud that Israel is the nexus of this activity.
“Before Tomorrow, everybody heard the negative stuff about Israel and now they all want to come here to see our startup culture. We’re proving we can find new channels of communicating with the next generation of leaders and empower other nations to be startup nations,” Kouris said. “We have something strong and solid in our hands.”
eCamp becomes Big Idea
When Kouris was a teen in the early days of the internet, he’d sit at the computers in his school library in a village near Afula, earning money by registering and selling domain names.
During his military service, he was sent to work in American Jewish summer camps. “I was inspired to make something like that in Israel, combining the American camp experience with the Israeli tech story,” he related.
He co-founded eCamp after dropping out of college (“What I was learning in class was about the past, and I had to deal with the future”) and working briefly at a high-tech startup. Now called Big Idea, the camp is still going strong, but Kouris left after a year to build his branding consultancy and organize for-profit conferences supported by corporate sponsorships and ticket sales.
“Israelis usually don’t pay for conferences, so it has to be something exceptional you can’t get anywhere else,” explained Kouris, who says his favorite hobby is “meeting people smarter than myself.”
He’s persuaded big names like Robert Scoble, a top American tech evangelist, and Prof. Steve Mann, “the father of wearable technology,” to come to Israel along with participants from China, Europe and the United States. “They come on their own budget because they feel these conferences are the best,” Kouris said.
Kouris is planning two international confabs in Israel for 2016, one to present outstanding technologies to the world on behalf of Innovation Israel; the other a free Tomorrow gathering to introduce the established global tech community to the next generation.
The single Herzliya resident said he is “having great fun and traveling the world” as he helps shape the future of Israel.
Israel21C is a nonprofit educational foundation with a mission to focus media and public attention on the 21st-century Israel that exists beyond the conflict. For more, or to donate, visit israel21c.org. Visit israel21c.org/forget-tablets-the-next-breakthrough-is-wearable-audio to listen to Viva Sarah Press speak on TLV1 to Nir Kouris about Israel’s role in this trend.