Incubating An ‘Innovation Movement’ at Hebrew U

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Jerusalem — They have 10 weeks to perfect The Pitch. And The Ask.

Come Sept. 10, 16 aspiring and current entrepreneurs from as many countries will sit across the table from a panel of venture capitalists looking for the next great product to invest in.

The 16 TIP participants pose for a group shot at the Beersheva Cyber Park.

The opportunity to make the pitch, and perhaps walk away with a commitment from some angel investors, is the end-of-program prize, and the culmination of Hebrew University’s English-language Summer Trans-Disciplinary Innovation Program (TIP), an ambitious pilot program scheduled for expansion next summer. The participants are spending nearly two months at Hebrew U studying bioengineering/biotechnology, computer vision, big data/cyber-security and entrepreneurship with some of the world’s most respected scientists, financiers, marketers and R&D decision-makers.

The program is a collaboration between the Hebrew University’s Alexander Grass Center for Bioengineering; the Jerusalem School of Business Administration; BioJerusalem; Rothberg International School; and Authority for Community and Youth (transdisciplinary-innovation.com).

Among the program’s highlights: the opportunity for TIP participants to personally interact with the 15 Nobel laureates taking part in The World Science Conference held Aug. 15-Aug. 20.

The students, who hail from Ethiopia, Brazil, Nepal, Croatia and a dozen other countries, are being taught by 60 lecturers, all experts in their fields.

The program focuses on innovation through lectures (regardless of their professional backgrounds, all participants attend all classes), hands-on training workshops and a great deal of team collaboration.

What makes this program unique, participants say, is the high level of mentoring from scientists, entrepreneurs and business and financial experts; the visits to emerging Israeli start-ups and well-established tech companies; and that all-important final pitch to a panel of investors.

“This program is unique and exactly what I was looking for,” said Tiago Mattos, a 35-year-old Brazilian entrepreneur and educational futurist who has launched several education-tech ventures. “I had never heard much of the information shared here, and I’ve made contact with super-successful venture capitalists. I never imagined I would be speaking face-to-face with Nobel laureates or billionaires.”

Elishai Ezra, TIP’s program director, said the program’s goal is to create an international “movement for innovation.”

Ezra said the first five weeks of the program were devoted to course work and site visits while the sixth week was devoted to ideation — the creative process of generating, developing, and communicating new ideas. Participants with similar interests were divided into teams and instructed to come up with an innovative joint project.

“Week 7,” Ezra said, revolved around the World Science Conference Israel (WSCI), where participants discussed their ideas with the Nobel Prize winners.

They will spend Weeks 8 and 9 developing their team projects by utilizing the university’s resources, including its nano-science center, mechanical workshop and applied physics department, as well as the Bezalel art school’s prototyping facilities. Week 10 will be spent pitching and marketing their ideas to a panel of judges from the public and private sectors.

“These are industry leaders, representatives of accelerators and incubators from around the world,” Ezra said. “We’ll try to serve as the matchmaker.”

Ezra said the program has brought together an extremely diverse group of people whose median age is 28.

“They are computer engineers, entrepreneurs, people in the business industry, academia, Ph.D. students, researchers. Many new friendships have formed and networks made.”

Diverse though the participants are, the yearning to create new products and bring them to the marketplace is shared by them all.

During a seminar on the university’s Givat Ram campus an instructor told the students that in order to develop and test a product they must first choose a “Persona,” a fictional person who best represents their user base.

The instructor explained that developing a so-called “target audience” is “too big, too personal and anonymous. Your persona can be anyone. A pilot, your grandmother. What’s vital is that your actual testers be as close to your persona as possible.”

Never recruit your family or friends to be testers, the instructor advised. “You want a critique. You want to hear what’s missing,” and family and friends won’t be brutally honest.

Choosing the right testers “will flush out 80 percent of your issues,” the instructor said before listing usability testing techniques.

Emerging from the seminar, Ivy Mukherjee, a 22-year-old visual and interface designer from India, said the knowledge she has gained during the program will be “invaluable” to her work.

“You just overflow with information. You see so many things you can do with it. Now I’m thinking about usability and the need to prototype your product and go to your users.”

Mukherjee, who in her professional life is developing a project related to e-books as an iPad application, said TIP is “unique” in that it has allowed her to pursue design, technology and innovation in one course.

“No other program I know of offers this,” she said.

Samer Shawar, a 32-year-old Palestinian participant from east Jerusalem, said he plans to share what he has learned during the program with Palestinian innovators in the West Bank, where he is developing a hacker space in the city of Ramallah.

He is also developing an electronic system to alert drivers they have left a child or animal in their vehicle.

TIP, he said, “has opened my eyes to many things, from many different directions. I didn’t know how things were made. It’s taken me really deeply into innovation, into the understanding that deep research can lead to a lot of innovation.”

Shawar said the program has also given him the confidence to proceed.

“It’s convinced me that I can do something to change the world, even if I’m only one person.”

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CFHU is dedicated to supporting IMRIC through direct funding and by developing key collaborative medical research partnerships between Canada
and Israel.
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