As Israel boasts the greatest number of startups per capita in the world, garnering the title of Startup Nation, entrepreneurship courses have been sprouting at universities and colleges throughout the country, meeting a grassroots demand. These programs aim to arm students with much needed theory along with a toolbox of mentorships, networking and tips on how best to approach investors for funding.
“Can someone talented manage without university studies? Anything is possible. But in life, a lot depends on chances. What are the chances of entrepreneurs succeeding if they don’t have mentors who want to push them forward, if they don’t know how to build a business model, if they don’t know how to build a team and when is the right time to approach the right type of investors?” said Dr. Yossi Maaravi, deputy dean at Adelson School of Entrepreneurship at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, in an interview. “Eighty percent of success stories can be pinned down to lessons learned, 20 percent on the person itself. Studying, in most cases, can significantly propel you forward.”
One of examples: the co-founders of InovyTec, a maker of portable emergency medical devices, both previously worked for the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, but didn’t know each other. Then, as a perk, they were both sent to take entrepreneurship courses at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
“The entrepreneurship studies gave us the opportunity to meet, first of all,” said company chairman Dror Matalon in a phone interview. “They also allowed us to take a pause from work and think, giving us the relevant economic knowledge that is the basis of what we do today. In brainstorming sessions in the classroom we discussed what we think are unmet needs, and the kernel for our company was formed there.”
InovyTec has just started sales of their airway collar, which allows the opening of patients’ airways noninvasively, and hopes to get European regulatory permits early next year for another product, a portable device that can treat both cardiac and respiratory failure. The company has raised $4 million to date, including $2 million from Germany’s RHON-Innovations GmbH.
IDC’s recently inaugurated Adelson School of Entrepreneurship (ASE) has become a hub for all of the private college’s entrepreneurial activities, both academic and extracurricular.
The school offers a variety of activities including courses, minor programs, different majors and special programs for outstanding students at the undergraduate and graduates’ levels. IDC’s flagship offering for undergraduates, the Zell entrepreneurship program, is one of the world’s most renowned venture creation programs within academia. In its 15 years of activity, 298 students have graduated and generated 85 ventures, according to Zell’s website. IDC also launched this year another honors entrepreneurship program, IDCBeyond, targeting graduates from Israel and abroad.
All our programs have a hands-on element, in which students learn through projects they set up, alongside the studies of theory and relevant case studies,” said Maaravi. “We have a strong relationship with the industry and the entire Israeli high-tech ecosystem — our teachers are academics but also industry experts and we have a network of mentors and former alumni — all keen to help advance Israel’s high-tech sector.”
Even as the universities churn out entrepreneurs, Israel’s high-tech sector, which has been a growth engine for the economy, is facing an acute shortage of engineers and programmers as students shy away from studying computer science, math and statistics.
This lack of a pool of skilled workers is highlighted even more by the burst of activity in the sector, which has almost doubled the number of companies operating locally in the past decade. Workers often also want the challenge of starting their own company rather than joining an existing one, and successful entrepreneurs tend to return to the market with new ventures.
In addition, companies from Google to Apple, Deutsche Telecom to Bosch have set up research and development centers in Israel, with 278 multinational companies operating a total of 327 R&D centers around the country today, compared with about 250 such centers three years ago, IVC data shows.
Israel’s government must encourage science and engineering studies at a young age, said Nobel Prize winner Professor Dan Shechtman in an interview last month with The Times of Israel. Shechtman, who has been running a course on technological entrepreneurship at the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology for the past 30 years, has developed a plan for innovation studies for Ort Israel Sci-Tech Schools, a network of vocational schools. In addition, Israel’s Council for Higher Education is planning to allow universities to increase the quota of students it enrolls for relevant science oriented faculties to help stem the shortage.
The programs offered at Israel’s universities are not very different from those offered by educational institutions in the US. What makes Israel different, said Prof. Dafna Schwartz, chair of the Bengis Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, is the ability of Israeli students “to network with the industry so easily. Israel is a very small country and everything and everyone is very accessible.”
“Studies show that entrepreneurship can be learned,” she said. “Our message has always been that entrepreneurship is a skill that one must have in today’s working world, in which things are always in a flux and where you need to constantly identify and analyze opportunities, whether for your company or for the company you are working for. The awareness for this need is growing. This is a skill that is a must for all those who study, I believe.”