Israel’s Entrepreneurial Spirit – The College of Management Academic Studies (COMAS)

Wednesday, March 3

Written by Rabbi Joel Nickerson

After lunch at a mall in Rishon Letziyon (see above pics for the display outside the mall), the fourth largest city in Israel, we came to the College of Management Academic Studies (COMAS). One of the participants on our trip, Mike Diamond, has worked with a few faculty members and leaders at the college and so we were fortunate enough to have an afternoon of wonderful learning from a variety of people, exposing us to the incredible entrepreneurial spirit that has given rise to the phrase “State-Up Nation” as a way to describe the vast array of start-ups, high tech ventures, and innovation that has positively impacted this country’s economy.

COMAS was the first college established in the country. While there are 7 public universities in the country, COMAS become the first private college, where the average tuition is about $10,000 a year. It contains many departments, but the business school is by far the largest. We met with Danny and Yosi, friends of Mike Diamond, who told us about the history of the college. We heard from three speakers during our time at COMAS. The first was Yaron Daniely, a bio-medical entrepreneur with an impressive resume and story. He is currently the CEO of Alcobra Pharma and the director of COMAS’s Bio-MBA program, specifically designed for those working in bio-tech. In addition to telling us about some incredible bio-tech innovations that have come out of Israel, he also spoke to what he thinks are the reasons why Israel is so primed to support all these creative, new, and groundbreaking ideas and companies. He believes it is a combination of three things:

  1. Innovation Capacity – The government has 25 programs that support entrepreneurs, pouring money and support into helping these strat-ups to thrive and grow. The army experience plays a special role in prepping young adults to work in groups and more importantly, to find ways to do their tasks as productively as possible, leading to a sense of always trying to make things better and faster. And the third piece is the role academia plays in supporting thoughtful research.
  2. Investment capacity – Israel is a viable market and there are many VC (ventur capital) firms that have taken hold in Israel, allowing for many opportunities to raise money for new projects. The government also infuses money into these businesses.
  3. Entrepreneurial activity – The following picture illustrates some of the reasons why Israelis are so primed for this.
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The elements that make Israelis primed for innovation.

Next, we heard from Natanel Gelenter, a cyber-security researcher and hacker, who focuses his research on developing new attacks online. In other words, instead of coming up with defenses against cyber attacks, he spends his time coming up with the next best attack, therefore, providing Israel the opportunity to develop defenses before an attack even occurs. He told us about the fascinating world of cyber security and the exciting opportunities for people like himself to engage in the intellectual challenge of this ongoing ‘cat and mouse game’, where new attacks and defenses need to be developed all the time, as technology is constantly changing. He spent some time walking us through the various types that occur online and a new attack that he has developed related to browsers (Safari, Firefox, etc.) and the ability to get personal information from people without them even knowing they’re giving that information to a hacker. It’s way too complicated to explain in this post, but it definitely reminded me to be as vigilant as possible when browsing online. He also gave us a few tips:

  1. Never use public wi-fi when logging into important sites, such as your bank or other financial institution.
  2. Use one browser for your sensitive information (financial institutions, etc.) and another browser for just browsing the internet and things that aren’t as sensitive. That way, he and other hackers can’t get all the information they want about you because it will be spread over multiple browsers.
  3. Never open or click the ‘unsubscribe’ button when you get an e-mail from what looks like a shady business or person. Once you click a link, it’s too late – they’ve got you. Instead, just delete the e-mail or mark it as spam.

The third and final speaker was a representative from the government – a deputy director of the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS). He explained the big picture of how the government supports people like Yaron and Natanel who have companies and who want to develop products and services that can benefit the country’s economy. The goal of the office is to strengthen the industry and support the new ideas that people have. The OCS gives out $400 million a year to business – from an idea that someone has and they want to try and develop that idea into a business, to other companies that are already established but want to expand. The OCS provides funds for R&D (research and development, creates incubator labs around the country to foster innovation, and they even have a program that supports young entrepreneurs as young as 13 and 14 years old!

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Overall, it was an impressive afternoon at COMAS and really exposed us to the incredible array of creative ideas and solutions that are being developed in Israel. It’s no wonder that next to the United States, Israel has the second largest number of companies traded on the NASDAQ.

And the day wouldn’t be complete without a little exposure to the Jewish elements of this country…Purim is coming!

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