Abigail Klein Leichman
August 28, 2023

In the upcoming semester, students at America’s fifth largest university will delve into the foundations of Israeli innovation and entrepreneurship.

Florida university students learn Innovation Nation secrets
Aaron Kaplowitz. Photo courtesy of United States – Israel Business Alliance

The “Innovation Nation: The Global Influence of Israeli Technology and Entrepreneurship” course at the Honors College of Florida International University is taught by Aaron Kaplowitz, president of the Miami-based United States – Israel Business Alliance (USIBA), and USIBA Managing Director Andi Flug Wolfer.

“This will mark our third year teaching the course, and the first time we’ve had to turn students away because we’re beyond capacity,” Kaplowitz tells ISRAEL21c. “We have 20 enrolled with more students on the waiting list.”

Kaplowitz notes that “for the vast majority of the students in our class, this is their first exposure to anything Israel-related.”

The seminar-style course presents the principles and unique cultural factors that impact Israel’s innovation ecosystem, such as mandatory Israel Defense Forces service after high school.

Students apply these concepts toward startups they develop in teams during the semester.

Lessons of failure

“They learn how to pitch, how to think through different angles, how to work as part of a team, and the important lessons of failure, which Israelis approach very differently than Americans do. If you have a failure on your resume [in Israel], companies look at that at as a benefit that will help you build a better startup next time,” says Kaplowitz.

Part of the class time is devoted to analyzing the teams’ decisions and improving their concepts and operations.

“We had a student startup last year that had poor internal communication. We recognized that early on, but let them work through the issues on their own. By the end, they felt that was the most important thing they got out of the class,” says Kaplowitz.

“And that is a principle ingrained in the Israeli startup experience. Every IDF mission has analysis after the fact, a debriefing that carries over into the startup world, and this is a really important lesson that our students benefit from.”

Guest speakers

“The highlight of the semester for the students is our field trip to the Wix office in South Beach,” Kaplowitz adds.

Wix, founded in 2006 in Tel Aviv to help people build their own websites, now has offices across the globe offering democratized cloud-based web development services.

Florida university students learn Innovation Nation secrets
Students in “Innovation Nation” class at Florida International University visiting Wix in South Beach. Andi Flug Wolfer is in the pink jacket. Photo by Aaron Kaplowitz

Most of the weekly sessions feature a guest speaker, sometimes via Zoom from Israel.

Among past speakers were Maurice Ferre, CEO and chairman of Israeli unicorn Insightec; Nadav Kidron, CEO and Chairman of Oramed Pharmaceuticals; Consul General of Israel in Miami Maor Elbaz-Starinsky; serial entrepreneur Jonathan Greenblatt, now national director of the ADL; and Yaron Sfadyah, head of business development at Believer Meats.

Speakers scheduled for the coming semester include Omri Shalev, CTO and cofounder of hotel procurement startup Reeco; Esti Burke of the Public Innovation Challenge at the Miami Innovation Authority; Nadav Solomon, president and cofounder of Tabit mobile restaurant POS solution; and Jeremy Parker, CEO of promotional products company Swag.com.

Impact Lab

As a complement to Innovation Nation in the fall semester, Kaplowitz and Wolfer started teaching a spring semester course last year, “The Miami-Israel Impact Lab,” examining the Israeli approach to social-impact entrepreneurship.

Impact Lab students volunteer at nonprofit organizations in Miami and analyze each one’s operations. Working together as “consultants,” they offer actionable plans that bring value to the organizations and innovative solutions to the community.

Kaplowitz says that one Impact Lab student was inspired to go on Passages Israel, an experiential trip for Christian students, and to intern in Israel.

“Not all our students want to be entrepreneurs,” says Kaplowitz.

Florida university students learn Innovation Nation secrets
Andi Flug Wolfer. Photo courtesy of United States – Israel Business Alliance

“We try to impress upon them that no matter what you do in life, you will pick up concepts and principles from this course that will apply. Our goal is to get them to think and learn how to apply these concepts so they can excel with the tools we’ve given them. We get messages from former students all the time that they utilized one of the concepts they learned in our course to complete an assignment at work.”

Wolfer thanked FIU Honors College Dean Juan Carlos Espinosa for supporting the initiative from the start.

“When we approached the Honors College with an idea for a course on Israeli innovation, Dean Espinosa told us that Israel’s unique approach to entrepreneurship is exactly what his students should be learning as they begin to think about life after college,” she says.

“Andi and Aaron have designed a fantastic course that highlights Israel as a powerhouse for technology and entrepreneurship,” said Espinosa.

“An important part of the course is devoted to the impact of Israeli tech on the world and the important connections between Israeli firms and South Florida. Students have an opportunity to hear from guest experts from industries from medical devices and creative software to water technology and AI and quantum,” he said.

“By the end of the course, the students will be familiar with the contours of the Israeli tech ecosystem. … I look forward to strengthening connections with Israeli universities and with firms in South Florida looking for smart interns.”

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