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Students in Israel

Startup Nation: Hofstra in Israel

Management and Entrepreneurship Professor Richard Hayes stood in front of his class, book open, and began to read. The subject: ethics and leadership.

But this was no ordinary lesson. Instead of a classroom, the group was gathered on a peak in Israel’s Judean Desert, overlooking mountains of sand and exposed rock, and the settlement of Mitzpeh Yericho.

And instead of a textbook, Hayes chose to relate a Biblical parable: the story of the prophet Elijah, who was called on by God to be a leader who stood up for his principles in the face of great hardship. At one point in his journeys, Elijah took shelter, alone, in a cave.

“You may find yourself in a cave one day,” Hayes told the students, his voice powering through blustery winds. “But don’t give up on your principles and who you are!”

Startup Nation: Hofstra in Israel

As the sun set, the group sang the Jewish song, Beshem Hashem, and spent a few minutes in silent reflection.

For the 18 undergraduate and graduate business students enrolled in Hayes’ International Entrepreneurial Consulting course, moments like this were integral to their understanding of Israel’s economy and entrepreneurial culture.

“This is an opportunity for students to experience all that Israel is,” said Craig Hartman, an adjunct professor in the Zarb School who supervised the trip with Hayes. “It’s important to mix the business and the culture because the business comes out of a culture.”

Students spent the first half of the course on Hofstra’s campus learning about how a nation only 70 years old, low on natural resources, and in a state of conflict produces more start-up companies than any other country in the world. Then, over Spring Break, they traveled to the start-up nation, itself: Israel.

Student above Israel

“The goal of the course is to expose students to different entrepreneurial ecosystems and to teach them about how different environments either facilitate or hinder entrepreneurs,” said Hayes, an associate professor in the Frank G. Zarb School of Business. “This is a great opportunity for our students to learn about such an amazingly vibrant and enterprising place.”

Finance and economics major Nicholas Boyer ’19, is an entrepreneur himself. He created a smartphone application called College Connects that aims to bring people together who have similar interests.

“Being surrounded by entrepreneurs and seeing other people in a different culture do it is kind of inspiring to me,” said Boyer, who has since decided to one day make Aliyah (when someone of Jewish descent moves to Israel) and work in an Israeli accelerator to further develop his app.

Startup Nation: Hofstra in Israel

On this trip, students learned from entrepreneurs; worked with start-ups; and visited cultural and holy sites in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Galilee, the Judean Desert, and Jerusalem, including the Western Wall.

Built by Herod the Great around 20 BCE, the Western Wall is the most sacred place where Jews are permitted to pray, though the holiest site in the Jewish faith – the Temple Mount – lies behind it. The Wall was built as a supporting wall for the Second Holy Temple, which was destroyed in 70 CE, along with much of Jerusalem, by the Roman Empire.

Students were able to touch the Wall and pray if they chose. Some wrote their prayers and aspirations on paper and stuck them in the Wall’s cracks – a popular tradition among the millions of all faiths who make the pilgrimage.

“I’ve never seen such worship in person before,” said Legal Studies in Business major Lucas Isaac, ’19, who was traveling outside the U.S. for the first time. “Seeing a congregation of people that had such religiosity that they were just enjoying the experience together – it was beautiful.”

Student in the Dead Sea

Students met with start-ups at the AtoBe Azrieli College of Engineering Accelerator. They consulted with these entrepreneurs to help further develop their business plans.

Finance major Cooper Platt ’19, worked with Flamegliders, a company manufacturing an unmanned vehicle that will transport supplies to areas ravaged by wildfires. They’re currently targeting Platt’s home state of California.

“It makes it much more close to home for me,” said Platt. “I’ll be more passionate coming up with solutions for my hometown.”

Upon their return to the United States, Platt and the other students in his group will conduct global market research for the company. They will look at costs associated with wildfires in California, as well as savings if the state implements Flamegliders’ solution.

“We’re empowering engineers who believe they can change the world for the better,” said Michael Mizrahi, director of innovation and entrepreneurship development at the Azrieli College of Engineering. “And we believe Hofstra students can provide fantastic value to our start-ups. Value that cannot be reached so easily.”

The students fully immersed themselves in the Israeli experience - right down to the baba ganoush, an eggplant-based spread mixed with tahini, olive oil, and various seasonings. They trekked through the ruins of the Masada Fortress, floated in the Dead Sea, and embraced the concept of Chutzpah.

“The people here don’t fear failure,” said MBA student Li Shao, ’18. “They are eager to try everything.”

Startup Nation: Hofstra in Israel

They also spent time in Tel Aviv, where they received history lessons at Shalom Meir Tower and Independence Hall; and visited Start-Up Nation Central, a nonprofit community powerhouse that fosters the growth of businesses in Israel.

The Taglit Innovation Center was junior Margarita Volchkova’s favorite part of Tel Aviv, also known as the “White City” – a reference to the collection of over four thousand white buildings built in a unique architectural form from the Bauhaus movement.

“We saw a new invention [at the Taglit Innovation Center], and it basically makes water out of the air,” said the international business major, talking about WaterGen, which aims to combat the global water crisis. “You can make your coffee, you can make your tea, you can also drink it cold. You just press a button, and pure water comes out of thin air.”

Students came to realize throughout this experience that business is about understanding how people live.

“I’m leaving here learning the entrepreneurial spirit that the Israelis embody,” said finance major Mariam Pustilnik, ’19. “They started from nothing, and look at them now.”