Business students tour the startup nation

‘I enjoyed learning about how direct Israelis are, and the laid-back work environment that helps promote creativity,’ says one visiting US student.

Peter Cohan wanted students in his “Israel Start-up Strategy Offshore” elective at Babson College, a private business school in Wellesley, Massachusetts, to see for themselves what makes the “startup nation” tick.

That’s what brought him, along with 23 juniors and seniors and a Babson administrator, to Israel from March 14 to 23. It was the second annual fact-finding trip for Babson students, and like the first one, was coordinated and led by Keshet: The Center for Educational Tourism in Israel. The itinerary developed by Keshet included plenty of time for fun and sightseeing.

“We’ve been meeting with entrepreneurs, professors of entrepreneurship, venture capitalists and people in the government who are promoting entrepreneurship,” Cohan told ISRAEL21c between a tour of the Knesset and a talk by serial entrepreneur Bob Rosenschein in Jerusalem.

“The goal is for them to really get a flavor for what is going on inside Israel’s startup scene. Some of the students are interested in starting their own companies, perhaps in Israel.”

The group met founders of startups in the lool Ventures. early-stage micro-venture fund in Tel Aviv. The Babson students will do consulting for these new companies back in the United States.

“We formed four teams of students, each of which is working with a company in lool for about six weeks after we get back, to help them grow and give students the opportunity to apply some of the things they have learned and identify growth opportunities,” said Cohan. “At the end of the six weeks, they will deliver a report to be part of their grade.”

Bianca D’Alessio, 21, from New York City, will work with Kiddos, an app aiming to help parents make sure their smartphones and computers are child-safe and child-friendly.

“The highlight of the trip for me was seeing how the general culture affects the business culture,” D’Alessio told ISRAEL21c. “I spent the last year studying abroad in New Zealand, India, Russia and China, observing the way that different cultures and approaches in teamwork and communication determine the business style and environment. I really enjoyed learning about how direct Israelis are, and the laid-back work environment I think helps promote creativity.”

Joanne Park, 21, came away with the impression that teamwork and willingness to take risks are powerful engines for Israeli businesses. The government of her native South Korea, she said, has been sending entrepreneurs to Israel to learn how to adopt these attitudes.

“Every company we went to emphasized that teamwork is the really important thing,” said Park. “I have never worked with partners, but the venture capitalist who spoke to us at Cedar Ventures [in Herzliya Pituach] said that without a partner you won’t be able to compensate for your own weaknesses.”

Boot camp

Cohan said that a four-hour “boot camp” session with pre-army Israeli teens was a pivotal experience for the Babson group. “It gave them a sense of how the Israeli culture stresses the importance of stretching yourself, solving problems and not giving up. All these are great values, which to me are key reasons why Israel is so successful.”

Piero Coen, 20, from Nicaragua, explained that each team consisted of about five Babson students paired with two Israeli 15- to 18-year-olds. “We got to know them a little, and I think a lot of the brotherhood and community amongst the Israelis has to do with the military. It definitely has a lot to do with the entrepreneurial spirit once they go out into the business world,” he said. “They get to immerse themselves in technology and leadership through the army.”

Coen will do market research in US hospitals for lool Ventures’ MediSafe, a platform for reminding people when to take their medicine and alerting caregivers to a missed dose. Graham Anderson, 21, of Rhode Island, is assigned to HeyKu, an app designed for sharing personal content in the form of haiku poetry.

Anderson said he has a few friends from Israel who are upset at the way Israel is portrayed on the news. “I was amazed at how vibrant it is, how warm and inviting the people were,” he told ISRAEL21c.

Billy Stetson, 19, said that before the trip he already knew that Tel Aviv is the No. 2 city in the world for startups. “But I didn’t know why, so I wanted to come here and understand how this happened,” he told ISRAEL21c.

“The market size in the US is massive, while in Israel it’s relatively small. Entrepreneurs want to grow fast and big, and that’s hard to do in a small market if you introduce a physical product, so it’s been interesting to learn how Israelis tailor technology products to help customers anywhere in the world with no geographical barriers. They’re able to sit down and understand the coding behind businesses that aim outside of Israel,” said the resident of Mamaroneck, NY.

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About Abigail Klein Leichman

Abigail Klein Leichman is a writer and associate editor at ISRAEL21c. Prior to moving to Israel in 2007, she was a specialty writer and copy editor at a daily newspaper in New Jersey and has freelanced for a variety of newspapers and periodicals since 1984.