SME4SMARTCITIES: From Malaga to Kfar Saba – connecting entrepreneurs, authorities and academia to innovate the urban space

Two significant, exciting events took place in September, marking the way for cities to create a more innovative and sustainable urban environment – the Urban Oasis initiative in Kfar Saba and the Herzliya Innovation zone. Both were developed during the SME4SMARTCITIES project, which aims to connect bodies to make cities smarter and improve wellbeing and sustainability. So, what are these initiatives?

On September 21, the Herzliya’s Innovation Zone was launched to serve as a municipal framework for creative development and collaborations between innovative companies and the local community. On September 26, the Urban Oasis solar pergola was inaugurated in Kfar Saba, after being jointly developed by 2 innovative SMEs – BIPV Israel’s and SIT Technologies from Italy. It was developed under the guidance of the Urban Innovation and Sustainability Lab at the Porter school at Tel Aviv University, together with the Innovation and Sustainability Division of Kfar Saba Municipality.

Urban Oasis brings together technologies from Spain, Italy and Israel to create a cool place in open areas of the city, that are exposed to the sun and to increasing heat. Urban Oasis is a solar pergola which generates electricity from solar energy, lowers the temperature and provides shelter from the strong sun and the heat of the day.

The initiatives in Herzliya and Kfar Saba are both implemented by the municipalities and the SMes, in collaboration with the SME4SMARTCITIES action research project, funded by the European Union within the framework of ENI CBC Med. SME4SMARTCITIES aims to connect local authorities in the Mediterranean region to small and medium-sized business enterprises in order to promote sustainability and innovation and to strengthen both. The project has partners from several countries and three sectors: academia, local authorities and businesses.

What is behind the project and what are the tools created that enable businesses and authorities to overcome challenges, make the most of the existing potential already existing in the cities and lead the urban space to a sustainable future, improving the quality of life of residents?

SMEs from the Mediterranean region work together to promote sustainability and innovation in cities.

As cities continue to grow, so do the number of challenges they face. Environmental, economic and social aspects require new solutions. Cities around the Mediterranean are facing more and more challenges: the climate crisis, traffic congestion, urbanization, social gaps and failing infrastructure. Climate change and intensive urbanization are already greatly affecting the entire Mediterranean region.

By bringing together innovative small and medium-sized businesses and local authorities, SME4SMARTCITIES facilitates co-creation to provide solutions to these challenges through innovative environmental, social and technological development.

On the one hand, the project helps cities become leaders in innovation, through green public procurement of innovative solutions. On the other hand, the project supports SMEs in the Mediterranean region to ensure that their products and services meet the expectations and needs of smart cities.

The first goal was to understand how to connect the parties and create collaborations between the small companies themselves, and between them and municipalities. The study began by working together with 34 cities across the Mediterranean, from Spain to Israel, to discover their challenges and their willingness to collaborate with small companies. Next, open calls for co-creation and entrepreneurial missions were conducted with specific challenges such as the warming of the city space, as a result of climate change or the need to locate parking spaces for people with disabilities.

The guiding principle is co-creation. Instead of just having tenders that call for proposals of existing product, it would be better to facilitate the co-creation of new solutions in the business and community ecosystem. The local authorities can present the challenges, SMEs and entrepreneurs can work together, waiving their products and services into a synergic, integrated, comprehensive solution for implementation in the city.

Establishing international connections to solve local challenges.

A significant part of the project’s activity is creating the connections between the various parties.  ‘Entrepreneurial missions’ were conducted with SMEs, municipality representatives and academy experts. The goal was to facilitate open discussions and to let collaborations emerge by issuing open calls for initiatives, out of which six initiatives received funding to implement in a particular city.”

The picture at the top was taken from one of the entrepreneurial missions. SMEs, municipality representatives from 4 cities in Israel (Tel Aviv, Kfar Saba, Herzliya and Eilat) and academy experts from Tel Aviv University meeting in Genoa, Italy to hear and discuss the challenges presented by FILSE and the municipality of Genoa.

Image: SMEs meet to discuss co-creation ideas during entrepreneurial missions at the Porter building Tel Aviv University. In the picture, Layla Moallem, Quad; Roee Dinovitz and Liran Livne, CTHAL; Shuaa AbuKaf, Siraj Technologies; Vardina Hubner, DHVMED


Co-creation proposals by SMEs from Spain, Italy and Israel were eventually chosen and implemented for 2 challenges in Genoa – BEAIR and InHeritage. In Spain, Park4Dis was implemented in Murcia and QUICK in Malaga and in Israel, Urban Oasis was implemented in Kfar Saba.

These initiatives were developed and deployed by SMEs across the Mediterranean that met for the first time at the entrepreneurial missions. Take Urban Oasis as an example. BIPV Israel has a smart system of solar panels embedded in glass, which can be installed anywhere. The glass lets in light and the panels provide shade. SIT Technologies has a particularly efficient water pump. Together, they created a solar pergola that provides shade, generates electricity, and utilizes a innovative water system by Netafim, an Israeli company, to provides additional cooling. The result is a cool seating area in the heart of the city, which generates self-sustained electricity. The first system is already installed in Kfar Saba and the test results show a cooling effect of 4-8 degrees compared to the environment.

Looking ahead, these new solutions can be installed in other cities, for the benefit of the residents.

Both the deployment of these innovative co-created solutions and the launch of the innovation zone in Herzliya are examples of the readiness and the dedication of municipalities to innovation and sustainability. The Herzliya municipality CEO said upfront that the city wants to be a beta site that provides innovative companies with the space to experiment. The Herzliya Municipality has dedicated units and centers for this purpose. This is also the case In other cities such as Kfar Saba, Eilat and of course Tel Aviv, which is a world leader in innovation ecosystems.

A toolbox for small companies and a guide for municipalities alike – available to everyone on the project website.

To allow more municipalities to use the practical tools and guides that SME4SMARTCITIES has created, the project has published a Smart Cities course on a website platform and a guide for cities and municipalities for the establishment of urban innovation ecosystems with examples and case studies. Cities from all over the Mediterranean and from all over the world can learn from the experience of other cities and develop their own innovation systems.