In chordates, formation of neural tissue from ectodermal cells requires an induction. The molecular nature of the inducer remains controversial in vertebrates. Here, using the early neural marker Otx as an entry point, we dissected the neural induction pathway in the simple embryos of Ciona intestinalis. We first isolated the regulatory element driving Otx expression in the prospective neural tissue, showed that this element directly responds to FGF signaling and that FGF9/16/20 acts as an endogenous neural inducer. Binding site analysis and gene loss of function established that FGF9/16/20 induces neural tissue in the ectoderm via a synergy between two maternal response factors. Ets1/2 mediates general FGF responsiveness, while the restricted activity of GATAa targets the neural program to the ectoderm. Thus, our study identifies an endogenous FGF neural inducer and its early downstream gene cascade. It also reveals a role for GATA factors in FGF signaling.