As it happens to so many, approaching the Western Wall provides visitors with a sense of perspective and understanding of Israel that will stay with them long after they leave. For my students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the experience provided them with an understanding of the connection between Israel’s booming startup scene and the country’s sense of culture and history.
Our visit to the Western Wall took place during an Old City tour in the second week of an intensive on-site collaboration between students and Israeli startups as part of MIT Sloan School of Management’s Israel Lab program. Launched last year, the program aims to connect teams of MIT students with Israeli companies to help them solve critical strategic challenges.
As a country, Israel continues to be the Start-Up Nation. Everybody exudes an entrepreneurial spirit. The country and the companies created and operating within its borders have an insatiable quest to change the world. While Israel also hosts many established global companies, the startup scene is extraordinary. Young companies seem to be just about everywhere; from Ra’anana to the Be’er Sheva Advanced Technologies Park.
For students interested in learning how to start and grow a business, there’s no greater laboratory. I worked with my colleagues to oversee eight project teams made up of 31 international students representing 13 countries. The students used the opportunity to apply their classroom learnings to solving real-world business challenges, and to gain a better understanding of the diverse entrepreneurial opportunities that exist in Israel and around the world.
What they discovered is that Israel’s start-up community is full of committed teams with a deep sense of culture and sophistication. Businesses are scrappy and determined to triumph against the odds in a global marketplace. They seek innovative ways to finance and launch new enterprises. My students saw the multi-level support the ecosystem offers entrepreneurs by meeting with investors, touring co-working spaces, and visiting MassChallenge, a startup accelerator founded by an MIT alumnus, and now operating in Jerusalem.
While many of these elements can be found in other countries, Israel‘s compact intensity provides an immersive experience of culture and industry that creates an energy like nowhere else.
There are many classes in which students can learn the sequence of steps to build a company, but without the opportunity to apply these learnings firsthand in real world action, they can fail to discover what makes a venture come alive. Israel Lab challenges students to learn by doing. My students’ experiences working with Israeli companies helped them experience—and contribute to—the magic, focus and grit that successful companies need to thrive in the marketplace; something these students won’t forget.
As MIT’s Israel Lab continues with new students, projects and companies in the future, these shared learnings and experiences will continue to grow and flourish, just as Israel’s innovative and entrepreneurial ecosystem continues to evolve.
Ken Zolot is a senior lecturer for Massachusetts Institution of Technology’s Office of Digital Learning and the founder of the Innovation Teams Initiative at MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation.