Exploring Israel’s Startup Culture

MSEL Trip to Israel

In many ways, Israel’s story is an entrepreneurial one. A country without many natural resources that is often on unfriendly terms with its neighbors, Israel has faced and overcome a slew of challenges since its founding in 1948.

“The mindset is they have to do it on their own,” says Malavika Madan ’19, MS’20. “The country has to be entrepreneurial.”

Madan was one of 17 Babson students, all in the College’s Master of Science in Management in Entrepreneurial Leadership (MSEL) program, who traveled to Israel in January. Visiting venture capital firms, accelerators, and startup companies, not to mention the ancient sites of Jerusalem, the students explored a country filled with the entrepreneurial spirit, particularly in tech. Israel has the most companies listed on Nasdaq after only the U.S. and China.

“It’s known as a startup nation,” says Peter Cohan, a lecturer of strategy at Babson who led the MSEL group. Delving into Israel’s startup culture during their nine-day trip, the MSEL students were on a mission to discover what makes it tick. “I wanted them to learn what is unique about the Israeli culture that leads to such a high startup success rate,” Cohan says.

Not Afraid of Failure

As part of the MSEL program, students travel abroad to study international entrepreneurship in one of four destinations: Chile, China, Tanzania, and Israel.

In Israel, the MSEL students were struck by the people they met. “The mindset of the people fascinated me,” says Madan. The students found Israeli entrepreneurs to be friendly, open to opportunities, and unconcerned about rank and hierarchy. Connecting with even high-ranking officials seemed relatively easy. “They have a very chill vibe of working,” says Avi Munjal MS’20. “I wish I had a team like that to work with.”

They’re also not afraid of failure. “They consider failure to be an achievement,” says Saniya Jain MS’20. “They feel that this experience is invaluable.” The investors the students met even said they prefer to fund founders who have faced failure in the past. “Investors see it as a positive,” says Jain. “They feel that you will come back stronger.”

New Connections

MSEL students experienced many highlights on the trip, from the food they ate, to the research projects they did for Israeli startups, to the Shabbat service they attended. “The vibe was very nice,” says Madan of the service. “It was a safe space to share your struggles and share your triumphs and let go of worries.”

Munjal enjoyed meeting with tech entrepreneurs. His family’s business, a manufacturer in India of car and motorcycle components, is seeking to improve the efficiency of its plants’ machines. Using the trip as an opportunity to meet entrepreneurs working in machine learning and artificial intelligence, Munjal made many connections, including at a Tel Aviv accelerator called Drive, which focuses on ventures in the automotive industry.

“Manufacturing is very labor intensive,” he says. “I wanted to see, as a family business, if we can invest in any of these startups.”

Core Values

One of the more memorable stops on the trip was when the MSEL students attended a boot camp for high school students preparing to enter the military. Military service is mandatory for Israelis. “It was interesting to see how motivated and disciplined they are,” says Munjal. “When I was in high school, I never thought of anything like that.”

“They consider failure to be an achievement. They feel that this experience is invaluable.”

Saniya Jain MS’20

On first blush, such a boot camp doesn’t seem to have much in common in entrepreneurship, but Madan believes that the military experiences of Israelis inform the country’s dynamic startup culture. The MSEL students visited many ventures with founders who first met in the military. “The bonds formed in the army are strong,” says Madan.

More than that, the military teaches Israelis to trust their teams, adjust to changing circumstances, and overcome obstacles. “They are taught core values,” says Madan, and those core values are essential to building a business.

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