Exploring the Israeli startup scene with The Chazen Institute

By Laura Kornhauser

Israel was in such high demand that Columbia’s Chazen Institute doubled down and created two groups for this year’s trip! It was a wonderful week long adventure during which we met with founders and executives of startups, Venture Capitalists, and leaders of the Israeli Government and Military.  These visits, combined with trips to the exceptional cultural sites in Israel (and a Dead Sea day party), gave us a strong and lasting impression of what makes Israel a magical country and an unique place to do business.

Our group started with a visit to Perion, a global technology company that delivers high-quality advertising solutions to brands and publishers, were we had a discussion with Perion CEO Josef Mandelbaum (former CEO of the American Greetings Intellectual Properties Group). Josef welcomed us into the informal Israeli business culture by immediately opening our discussion up with a lively Q&A where we discussed the differences in doing business in the US and Israel and how to best bridge the cultural gap to extract the most out of the different talent and styles in each country.

From there, we moved to Noble energy for an engaging discussion and debate surrounding their natural gas projects and assets in Israel and their current negotiation with the Israeli government and people over the future of their off-shore natural gas projects.

At the same time, our counterparts in the other group visited Caesarstone, a newly IPO’ed company specializing in high-end countertops founded on kibbutz, a collective community in Israel traditionally based on agriculture. This exposure to the unique Israeli social construct and the modern-day success of Caesarstone provided a fascinating contrast of traditional living style with the relatively new start-up culture of the country.

This action packed day ended with a trip to a new We-Work in Tel Aviv for a Venture Capital Panel featuring investors from Genesis Partners and Canaan Partners.  We also heard from the Israeli Ministry of Science about some of the programs sponsored by the government and private firms to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem and inspire innovation.  In particular, we focused on Israel’s current efforts to move from the “startup nation” to the “scale up nation”.

Additional trip highlights included a visit to Tulip winery.  Tulip is a boutique family winery focused on using innovation and creative to produce quality wines with social responsibility, as the winery aspires to enable members of the local special needs community to develop and realize their potential by offering them a business platform to integrate into the workforce.  Later in the week, we were given an inside look at Israel’s elite Air Force unit where a decorated Pilot shared his experiences.  He discussed and showed the methods they employ for constant review, validation, evaluation and improvement of military operations and the impact this has on the Israeli culture of innovation.  Upon return to Tel Aviv, we had an engaging visit from the Ministry of Finance where we discussed how he works to bring a business mentality to governmental organizations and their efforts to combat rising cost of living in Israel.  We ended the week with alovely outdoor reception with members of the CBS alumni community in Jaffa.

A HUGE thank you to Amir Hazan, Ezer Cherki, Hila Sarig, Michael Cherkassky, Idan Vlodinger, Prof. Netzer and Prof. Jick and all the organizers at Chazen for such an amazing and impactful week!