Guest post by Claire Chen
With the most startups per capita and total funding worth $3.58 billion in 2015, Israel is one of the hottest entrepreneurial hubs in the modern world. WashU’s Israel Summer Business Academy (ISBA) allows students the opportunity to immerse themselves in the country’s entrepreneurial environment, while gaining firsthand business experience with local startups.
ISBA is a six-week program for undergraduate students of all disciplines, based in Tel Aviv, Israel. Students engage in the local entrepreneurship scene through two modules: Business, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship in Israel, and Venture Creation. Through the first module, students study the economy, culture, and other factors to analyze the opportunities and obstacles in Israel’s business world. They also visit government institutions, venture capitalists, and company headquarters in Israel, including Microsoft, Intel, and Google, amongst others. During the second module, students assemble in teams of 3-5 to create a mock startup. Students also have the opportunity to explore Israel throughout the program, visiting cultural sites like Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.
Emily Romanow, BSBA ’18, participated in the ISBA program during the summer of 2015. She’s studying finance and entrepreneurship, with a minor in computer science.
Q: What would a typical day be like at ISBA?
A: Well, there is really no typical day, so I’ll give an example of a typical week instead. Usually, three days would be dedicated to school, so we would go to the university, called the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), which was about 25 minutes outside of Tel Aviv, where we were living. We would have speakers come, or work on our [venture] projects, so that would be about half the week. We’d have one break day throughout the week, and then usually on the weekends, we were traveling. There were a lot of fun activities; we went and cooked pizza at a kibbutz, we went to a chocolate factory, we went down to the desert and saw this desert garden, we went to Jerusalem—that was one of my favorite places, because there was just so much history in one place. It was cool to compare Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, since they were such different cities in a really small country. Tel Aviv is a young city, so for Shabbat some stores will close, but most people will still go out, whereas in Jerusalem, the whole city—metro and everything—will shut down. It was just really interesting to see the old versus the new.
Q: Did you work with any specific companies while you were doing your projects?
A: Not specifically; we were working with IDC, which is the university there, and they have this Zell Entrepreneurship Program, so we worked with Israelis who had graduated from the army (in Israel, you have to join the army once you turn 18, so these students were probably around 22 or 23 years old) and were just starting university—they called themselves the Zellerators. We also visited a bunch of companies, and you could bounce your ideas off of them—for example, we went and visited the AOL startup accelerator to get their perspective on our products.
Q: How did you come up with the ideas for your company?
A: Since the program was so short, you had two options: you could either use your own idea, if you’d had an idea prepared coming into ISBA, or the Zellerators would have pages of ideas that they had come up with, and you could choose one and help execute it. What they really ingrained in us there, and what I later learned in Intro to Entrepreneurship, was that ideas are dime a dozen—it’s really how you execute them. People will have the same ideas over and over, but the best execution is the one that succeeds. This was really refreshing to me, because I was stressed out about the fact that I would have to come in with this brilliant idea, and it had to be perfect, but knowing that it was more focused on the execution versus the idea itself was reassuring. Also, I feel like a lot of the ideas I come up with are focused around college, or problems that I face in my daily life, which I think is where ideas come from for most people. So I think that as you get more experience, your ideas start to reflect what you’ve been exposed to, so that was interesting for me.
Q: What was your favorite thing about ISBA, or what impressed you the most about the program?
A: I think just how well organized it was, and how you were able to get so many different perspectives. I think the speakers were the best part of it, because we listened to so many amazing people speak, like the founder of Waze, or people working in government institutions, that it really changed our outlook on the world around us. The program wasn’t all just business-focused, so we got a broader view of the country—for example, we spent one day just doing a walking tour of Tel Aviv. Also, I think just being independent, being able to explore a city and country that I’d never been to, was really liberating.
Q: What kind of person would you recommend IBSA to?
A: I honestly would recommend to anyone. I personally would recommend it most strongly to people not in the business school—like of course it would be great for people in the business school, but I really think that WashU should work to get people outside of the business school into the ISBA program. In Israel, especially in the startups that we’d seen, so many people had specialties in technology or other fields outside of business. So getting more engineers into the program would be an amazing thing not only to help the business school students, but also to give engineers a completely different perspective. Then again, I think anybody should do it, especially if you’re interested in business and being on the forefront of technology.
Q: What was your biggest takeaway from the program?
A: As cliché as this sounds, I think the program just really opened my eyes to how many cool things are in the world right now. WashU can be a bubble, so just looking beyond my normal environment and seeing how many cool things are coming out of Israel—with all the innovation that’s happening there—really helped me learn how to think outside of the box, and to take my ideas an extra step. We’re always taught to ‘think outside of the box’, but once I got to ISBA I realized that I had to take everything that I thought was ‘outside of the box’, and then take it one step further to make it truly innovative.
To learn more about the ISBA program, click here: application deadlines are February 15th.