I'm Can Amado, a student on the Weekend MBA at Imperial College Business School. I recently travelled to Tel Aviv on the IB Glocal elective, which is one of the many electives on offer to me on my programme.
Thirty-five Imperial MBA students joined 15 Tel Aviv University (TAU) students for an intense, fun and educative four days in Tel Aviv, to learn about Israel’s unique startup ecosystem and the emerging technologies that will transform the world in the coming decades.
Israel, and Tel Aviv are fascinating places that have thrived in the face of adversity in the past 71 years of existence. As a country with no natural resources, Israelis like to say the brains of their people is their only resource. Israel tops the list in most measures of innovation and technology when measured by capita and has investment from over 500 multi-national companies looking to capture the innovation.
The objective of the IB Glocal elective was to “consider the characteristics of the digital economy and digital technologies, and how these create both global and local opportunities for entrepreneurs”. The cohort, consisting of Global Online MBA, Executive MBA, Weekend MBA, Full-Time MBA and Tel Aviv University MBA students, learned with lectures, guest speakers and a week-long interactive exercise.
The elective was co-led by Dr Llewellyn Thomas from Imperial College Business School and Eyal Benjamin from Tel Aviv University, and was hosted at Tel Aviv University’s Ramat Aviv campus. Most students stayed in central Tel Aviv to be close to the bustling beaches, restaurants and nightlife that the city has to offer.
The class schedule of 15:30-20:30 each day allowed for plenty of time for visits to companies and non-profits; some of which were organised by Imperial and some by students. Each day was divided into three parts, each of which was taught by one of the professors or a guest lecturer.
We arrived in Tel Aviv University in the 38 degree heat, and met our professors and classmates from Tel Aviv University, and found our pre-assigned groups. Each group then picked a “unicorn” company that was analysed with the frameworks we learned in every session.
Day one consisted of introductions to digital technologies to startup ecosystems, Israeli ecosystems and digital business models. The graph below neatly summarises the success of Israeli startups, considering this is a country of only nine million people. It was especially insightful to see that there are multiple ways to measure an ecosystem, and that they are marketed with whichever fits their narrative best.
We ended the first day in true British style, at the student bar! It was a great wrap-up to the day to socialise with the cohort and professors.
A group of students organised two visits on Tuesday morning; first to PwC Israel to listen to a walkthrough on their most recent “State of Innovation” report, followed by a lively discussion. We then headed over to Start-Up Nation Central, which is a non-profit that “builds bridges for Israeli innovation”. We heard about the unique work they do, the Israeli startup ecosystem from their perspective and Start-Up Nation Finder – a tool for finding and connecting with all Israeli startups.
The classes on the second day consisted of analysing different kinds of platforms and protection methodologies, and how these impact a company's values. We finished the day with a guest lecture on Blockchain and Cryptocurrency, and learned of Israel’s obsession with Bitcoin, so much so that there is a “Bitcoin Embassy” in the hippest area of Tel Aviv.
We were given tickets to TMTI, an innovation summit that was hosted by Tel Aviv University. It was a wide-ranging event, with startup pitches, lectures and networking sessions, giving us a first-hand experience of Israel’s startup ecosystem.
In the afternoon we had Nadav Poplawski from UNIQAI talk about Artificial Intelligence and its applications, such as smart cameras and phone apps, that detect crime for teens that keep them from harm. We then heard Dr Thomas' lecture about digitisation’s societal effect, and it was incredible to hear that both professors avoid all Facebook and Google products for privacy reasons.
We visited the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, to see Shimon Peres’ legacy, and experience his vision of how peace and innovation go hand-in-hand. We also got a chance to visit Tel Aviv in the year 2100 with Virtual Reality headsets, to see how the city will evolve with new technology.
The afternoon was devoted to finalising our presentations for our “investment exercise”, where each team had to pitch for investment to their unicorn, with a long-term success plan using the concepts learnt in class. Each student had $1,000,000 to invest, and could invest a maximum of $5,000,000 to a single company. It was interesting to see that out of 10 groups, only one (company Houzz) passed the threshold for the company to survive.
We ended the trip with a great social at Haiku Rooftop Bar, where students from Imperial and TAU socialised with drinks and an unforgettable view of the city. Most students extended the trip over the weekend to go to the beach, eat amazing food and enjoy day trips to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the Dead Sea. It was an unforgettable trip, even for those of us who have been to Israel multiple times – we made new friends and insights into the 'Start-Up Nation'.