Gies Business Students Visit Israel to Learn from the Startup Nation

The impact that the State of Israel has had in technology and business is deceptive if you just look at its size. The country covers 20,770 square miles, making it less than half the size of the state of Illinois. Its current population is 8,299,706—about two-thirds the population of Illinois. And yet, this country, which is 154th in size worldwide, is home to some of the most innovative and technologically advanced companies in the world.

Candace Martinez & Israel trip meeting
Professor Candace Martinez provided students with an international business perspective as they prepare for their visit to Israel.

Over the past several decades, Israel has become known as the Startup Nation. It is home to more startups per capita than any other country in the world. Other than the US and Canada, there are more companies from Israel on Nasdaq than from any other country. Israel has grown to have major importance in the world of technology and business, with nearly every major technology firm having research facilities there. This is a country on the forefront of international business.

Over Spring Break 2018, 35 students from Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois will travel to Israel to learn more about this Startup Nation. Here students will visit with business leaders and tech innovators to discover how businesses there innovate, thrive, and push the envelope.

Among the businesses the students will visit are WeWork, a shared workspace for several young companies where students will meet with founders of several startup companies; BlueSnap, a global ecommerce payments company that is creating a seamless online purchase experience; HackerU, the leading center for computer and information technology training in Israel; and Mobileye, a company that develops vision-based advanced driver-assistance systems providing warnings for collision prevention and mitigation. The students will also have the opportunity to meet with native Dan Shapiro, a Champaign, Illinois, native who served as Ambassador of the United States to the State of Israel from 2011 to 2017.

The students on this trip are participants in the James Scholars honors program in Gies College of Business. Selection as a James Scholar is a recognition of academic achievement. This is the first year an international experience such as this has been offered to this cohort of students.

Professor Rachel Harris discussed the history and culture of Israel during a visit to Illini Chabad.

“Expanding educational and research ties with Israel has been an increased focus of the College,” said Rob Metzger, the director of the Gies College of Business Honors Programs and the faculty member leading the trip. “Combining this goal with an international business experience for our students seemed a great fit.”

In preparation for this trip, students met over the winter break with Gies Business alumni Scott Gendell ’79 BS Advertising, president and CEO of Terraco Inc.; Michael Lavin ’10 BS Finance, ’11 MS Finance, of GERMiN8 Ventures; and Steve Lavin ’77 BS ACCY, of Lavin & Waldon PC. These Illinois alumni shared their expertise on the business climate in Israel, and some stories on what it is like to work with Israeli companies. Representatives from the Israeli consulate also attended to provide some perspective on the history and culture of Israel as it applies to the business climate. Recently, students met with Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel of the Illini Chabad and Rachel Harris, Associate Professor of Israeli Literature and Culture at the University of Illinois, who gave an overview of Israeli history and culture, and helped lead an exercise for students to think about how businesses could thrive in this small, vibrant country.

Metzger said that he hopes students will have several take-aways from the trip. “First is a better appreciation for innovation, entrepreneurialism, and advancement within business and in the world. Other than Silicon Valley, the Israeli technology area is the number two place for startups,” he said. “The goal of the trip is to provide business, cultural, and policy components. We want the students to have a well-rounded experience.”

This trip is supported in part by funds provided through the Richard A. Erley Leadership Development Program, which supports unique educational experiences to help student achieve increased preparedness and competitive advantage as they enter the business world. These experiences include international study experiences. This program was established by Jeane Erley in honor of her husband Richard, a 1951 graduate of the College.