Israeli entrepreneurship comes to U.S. college classroom

Israeli startups are finding a new American address outside the traditional breeding grounds of New York and Silicon Valley - places such as Florida, whose International University is offering a new course called Innovation Nation: The Global Influence of Israeli Technology and Entrepreneurship

Mike Wagenheim/The Media Line|
While failure is a resume-builder in the Israeli hi-tech sector, an F in a college course about the business might not be such a bright idea.
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  • Florida International University (FIU) is the fourth-largest university in the U.S. based on its enrollment of approximately 59,000 students.
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    Florida International University
    Florida International University
    Florida International University
    (Photo: Courtesy)
    The Miami-based school is at the heart of the newest hub of Israeli business in America, and FIU is offering its 2,700 Honors College students a foot in the door with a new course this fall called Innovation Nation: The Global Influence of Israeli Technology and Entrepreneurship.
    The course will explore some of the major questions and challenges with which entrepreneurs contend and draw lessons from Israel’s innovation ecosystem, including what investors are looking for, government facilitation of innovation and Israeli tech’s impact on South Florida.
    “The students are going to get a crash course on entrepreneurship basic tactics, then they’re going to look at the Israeli ecosystem in tech: Silicon Wadi and how Israeli tech companies are establishing themselves all over the world. There are 20-something unicorns in New York and we’re looking for billions more of Israeli investment here. So, we want the students to get that Israeli perspective,” says FIU Honors College Dean Juan Carlos Espinosa.
    “It’s actually not just a course,” Espinosa says. In addition to the actual course during the fall semester, which includes guest speakers and special activities, the students in the spring will have internships in Israeli companies in South Florida. At the end of the spring semester there is a trip to Israel.
    When one thinks about Israeli hi-tech and golden tans, Tel Aviv comes naturally to mind. But, Israeli startups are finding a new address in the United States – outside the traditional breeding grounds of New York and Silicon Valley. Places such as Florida.
    “There have already been prominent Israelis and Israeli communities down there for a few decades. As more Israeli companies become relevant, they’re coming to the U.S. en masse, and Florida is really becoming a focal point,” says Aaron Kaplowitz, the founder and president of the United States – Israel Business Alliance and one of the FIU course instructors.
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    Florida International University
    Florida International University
    Florida International University
    (Photo: Screenshot)
    “There are direct flights from Israel into South Florida, which is huge for businesses. And there’s a big cultural overlap. Miami feels like a bigger Tel Aviv. There are governments all around Florida, at the state and local levels, that are eager for Israeli tech and they outwardly talk about it. Miami itself is a melting pot, with immigrants at its center, like Israel, so there’s no second thoughts about integrating Israel into the business and cultural community,” says Kaplowitz.
    Indeed, both Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez are not shy about flashing their pro-Israel bona fides. And the state’s Gulf coast features the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator (FIBA) in Tampa. Launched in 2016 by the Tampa Jewish Community Centers & Federation, FIBA helps to establish and grow successful, high-growth Israeli tech ventures in the Tampa Bay area. The venture is sponsored by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
    Israeli-founded software company Wix, which allows users to create and custom-design their own websites, has a prominent office in the South Beach neighborhood of Miami Beach. INSIGHTEC, an Israeli-founded medical technology innovator that achieved unicorn status (privately-held startup company with a billion-dollar valuation) last year, houses its U.S. headquarters in Miami. It’s part of Miami’s growing medical devices, life sciences and heath-tech sector, which is an Israeli specialty.
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    מושל פלורידה רון דסנטיס
    מושל פלורידה רון דסנטיס
    Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
    (Photo: MCT)
    Memic Innovative Surgery, an Israeli medical device company with U.S. headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, secured $96 million in a new fundraising round two months ago. The capital injection will support the commercialization of Memic’s Hominis-branded robotic-assisted surgical platform.
    “I think there are so many affinities between Miami and Tel Aviv in particular, in terms of people coming from elsewhere. We’ve got that immigrant energy, very entrepreneurial in a global sense," says Espinosa.
    "We’re not raising just the start-up generation here, but the scale-up generation. And that’s something else that I want for our students: to understand the global ecosystem and our place in it, their place individually and the place of Israel because this class is very much about Israel and its tech system and its relationship to Miami.”
    That immigrant energy is captured in a company like Cicada, an organic cotton sock and lifestyle brand that partners with nonprofits to design sock illustrations with an important social message. The company chose Miami as its U.S. base of operations, and its founder says the Israeli business community in the area is becoming its own accelerator.
    “It’s so beneficial to learn from other people’s experience. A lot of them 20 years ago, 30 years ago are where I am now. And I feel like the Israeli community here is trying to help you. Not just trying to do business with you, but they’re also trying to really just help you get started and grow the business,” says Cicada Founder and CEO Nadav Regev.
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    Miami Beach, Florida
    Miami Beach, Florida
    Miami Beach, Florida
    (Photo: Reuters)
    “I wanted to work from a Tier I city in the U.S., and the way Miami grew in the last year or so, it just brought so many entrepreneurs and so many young people with great ideas who are passionate about turning them into reality,” says Regev.
    “It starts with a connection to someone that’s maybe done something similar to what you’re going to try to do. But once we’re there, you get to the right lawyer and you get to the right people who do marketing and you get to the right people who can help you out with sales. And suddenly, there’s other investment opportunities and real estate and a million other things.”
    “We built a community and we have a really good thing going on. It’s a social community at its very core, but everything starts from that community and leads to business,” he says.
    Just as Florida’s Israeli tech scene features a diverse lineup, FIU expects its Israeli entrepreneurship class to draw interest from a wide range of students.
    “The most entrepreneurial successful students of ours have not come from the college of business, but from the college of engineering. I’ve seen English majors, history majors and international relations majors who are interested in this course,” says Espinosa.
    “So, entrepreneurship should not be bound by what your major is. It should be not about being bound by anything, but about thinking and innovating and taking risks and allowing yourself to fail. I’ve been told that failure is an important part of the resume if you’re going to be in that sector in Israel,” he says.
    An Honors College student hearing that failure is important may come as a bit of a shock to the system, however.
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