There is Silicon Valley and then there is the Startup Nation, the popular sobriquet used to identify Israel’s highly successful startup ecosystem. Outside of SV, it’s the most entrepreneurial place in the world, with largest number of startups per capita on the planet: one newly created enterprise for every 1,400 people.
It’s why many business schools have sent their MBA students on treks to Israel to meet with entrepreneurs and to better understand how the country became such a hotbed of startup activity. Yet, for would-be entrepreneurs, the best route to getting a handle on the nation’s success could very well be to live in Israel and experience it first hand through the accelerated one-year Sofaer Global MBA program in innovation and entrepreneurship at Tel Aviv University’s Coller School of Management.
One of only two AACSB accredited business schools in Israel, Coller is at the epicenter of the Startup Nation. Its small, yet highly selective MBA program, with an annual intake of just 50 students from all over the world, is an intense and immersive experience in new venture creation. It is also a program that gives immediate access to the country’s most dynamic entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.
‘A RARE OPPORTUNITY TO CONNECT WITH LEADING MEMBERS OF ISRAEL’S STARTUP ECOSYSTEM’
“Israeli capital and technology are becoming global, and this is a rare opportunity to make friends with leading members of that ecosystem from the minute you get here,” explains Leslie Broudo-Mitts, head of the Sofaer MBA and the Coller Institute of Venture. “The human capital here is amazing, it’s generous and it’s accessible. Everybody is still so connected here that you can literally talk to anyone you want. You can email someone and they will email you back and meet with you, and it’s not just our alumni.”
The accelerated one-year MBA experience is also unique, an opportunity to learn the business basics but also to roll up your sleeves and immediately put to work what you’ve learned through the school’s emphasis on action-based learning. “The question of who you are going to meet here, what you are going to learn, and how you will use it is not conceptual,” says Broudo-Mitts. “It’s what are you going to do on Tuesday morning to make this happen.”
Even as applicants, would-be MBA students are asked what kind of business they intend to work on, what specific businesses they want to get to know, and how they believe the experience will further their goals. In the very first module of the program, which kicks off every October, Dean Moshe Zviran leads a deep dive into the country’s startup ecosystem, bringing into the class Israeli’s founders who bring a pragmatic and hands-on approach as an immediate complement to the more common core courses in finance, accounting, and strategy.
‘IT’S A DIFFERENT WAY OF SEEING THE WORLD…OF THINKING ABOUT OPPORTUNITY’
“He is able to bring in the kinds of people who have already made it happen,” adds Broudo-Mitts. “It is a different way of seeing the world, a different way of thinking about opportunity, and how to build something that is really impactful. Students who think they understand it, really don’t understand it until they touch it again and again and again. Israeli entrepreneurs are this very odd combination of tough-minded business people who are warm, generous, and good-hearted. It’s not a combination I have seen elsewhere. Understanding that is helpful for people who want to work in different cultures.”
Tel Aviv University keeps the program purposely small. “We could get bigger but we are choosing not to,” says Broudo-Mitts. “It’s really because we believe that the intimate, increasingly customized and integrated experience people have in a smaller group is something really special. If you are in a class of 600, you can stay within a subgroup and not integrate. But when you are in a class of 50, you have to work with everyone and our diversity is part of the magic that happens among our students. We are not just doing it as an MBA program. We really feel an obligation to the university and the country. Not to sound too audacious but as we continue to get better and better, I think our students can make a real difference in the world.”
Though limited to 50 students, the class is highly diverse, with current students hailing from 27 countries in North America, Europe, Asia, South America, and Oceania. Typically, Israeli students make up just two or three of the 50 students in the class and they tend to be Ph.D. and post-doc students or CEOs of multi-million-dollar companies. The average age of an incoming student is 29, though it ranges from as young as 23 to the early 40s, with a 50-50 gender split.
‘WE ARE ATTRACTING UNCONVENTIONAL THINKERS’
There is one thing they share in common. “We are attracting unconventional thinkers,” she says. “This is a group that is really not just marching to its own drummer; they are not even sure there is a drummer. They are not trying to prove anything. They are looking at the world, seeing opportunities, and figuring out how to make it in this world.”
Broudo-Mitts estimates that 60% of the incoming 2021 class will have already built a business. “Sometimes it has been inside a corporation, but more often than not I will have many students who have started several businesses, who are already investing in startups or who have a clear idea of the businesses they want to build,” she adds. “What is interesting about them is that they usually bring content understanding about a business to the MBA. So we will have a medical doctor, for example, who has brought innovation to his hospital or someone with a master’s in education who wants to bring education to new communities in an entrepreneurial way.”
The program is also flexible enough to meet the needs of three different kinds of entrepreneurial students. In the third module, which is heavy on experiential learning, before graduation in August, there is essentially one of a trio of tracks. There are the early stage students who have an idea that requires a business plan, pitch deck, and business model in which case the program becomes something of an incubator for their startup. Another group of students works with companies that are looking to expand into new markets or launch new products.