Back from the Startup nation: reflections on student entrepreneurship inspired by the Israeli context | Episode 1

by bold-lichterman

At the end of March, we were with my colleague Matt Fuller in Israel, in search of the innovation treasures of the “start-up nation”. From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, via Haifa, we went to meet the actors of the Israeli entrepreneurial ecosystem, in particular within the largest universities in the country. This itinerary has inspired us to think about student entrepreneurship in the French context. This post is the first part …

Episode 1 – “It’s a very good period to become an entrepreneur, but also a very bad period” *: support measures at the turn.

Israeli universities have been pioneers in the implementation of structures designed to train their students in entrepreneurship. However, everything indicates that they are today at a turning point, in the face of changes in the Israeli entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Universities committed to the entrepreneurial education of students

Israeli universities, like many higher education institutions around the world, realized relatively early on the value of having entrepreneurship centers to train their students. They also benefit from a strong international reputation for their entrepreneurial dynamism. At Tel Aviv University, ranked 9th behind American universities for its number of graduates who have become entrepreneurs **, the StarTAU center has thus operated for 10 years to inform and train all students interested in starting a business. Similar systems also exist at the Technion, the country’s largest technological research institute, and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where the HUStart program has supported generations of entrepreneurs.with an annual budget of $ 100,000.

Entrepreneurship centers without entrepreneurs?

Despite these initiatives, we were struck in our visits to find these centers often empty of entrepreneurs. Could the start-up nation ultimately be a nation of incubators without startups? For some observers we were able to interview, the acceleration market has grown exponentially over the past decade. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of incubators increased from 3 to more than a hundred, depending on the definitions given to them. Israeli know-how attracts support professionals from all over the world, in conferences dedicated only to program managers or community managers of acceleration structures. The sector also seems to be reaching maturity, with the opening of increasingly specialized incubators in supporting certain types of entrepreneurs, such as The Nest, dedicated to immigrants or 8200 EISP, intended for former officers of the IDF 8200 Intelligence Unit, or certain types of projects, such as theDock, positioned on the development of maritime technologies.

University entrepreneurship centers are therefore faced with increased competition in the bubbling ecosystem of startups and are struggling to attract their students and alumni, who have at their disposal a range of structures to turn to. Since 2016, the Technion has invested $ 500,000 each year in around ten startup projects which are then incubated in the Technion Drive Accelerator within the university. The first year, the demand was such that this budget had been used up at the start of the year. At the time of our visit at the end of March, the 2018 budget had not been fully invested. Could this slowdown be linked to a strengthening of the university’s criteria in its selection of projects? Or would the strong enthusiasm that was observed in 2016 among students for the program gradually run out of steam?

Towards new models of support for student entrepreneurship

The difficulty in attracting students has also led a number of entrepreneurship centers to reposition themselves. At the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the HUStart program is temporarily suspended, following the departure of its manager, and the decision-making structures of the university are being considered as to the future of the device. In Tel Aviv, the president of the university was inspired by the successes of MIT and Stanford to open the first investment fund held by the university, TAU Ventures. The latter follows on from the StarTAU Entrepreneurship Center, whose activities were recently discontinued. Everything is still to be built for the TAU Ventures teams who joined the program a few weeks ago and succeeded in raising more than $ 20 million to invest in promising startup projects.

Student entrepreneurship is therefore, as we have seen, at a turning point in Israel. Israeli universities are looking for new models, in a context where entrepreneurship attracts more and more young graduates and in an already saturated support market. If the French context has similar characteristics, can we really draw inspiration from these models to apply them? We cover this question in the next episode …

* An academic manager questioned about the entrepreneurship center of his university

** According to the 2017 PitchBook University ranking

Photo by Rob bye we Unsplash

The contributor:

Israeli style” what if entrepreneurial culture takes precedence over devicesPassionate about the current changes in work, Laëtitia is a researcher in Entrepreneurship, within the framework of a CIFRE between the University of Grenoble-Alpes and the Conseil & Recherche company. His work focuses on the entrepreneurial engagement of students and the role of support systems in the transition from intention to entrepreneurial behavior. This research is carried out under the direction of Jean-Pierre Boissin, coordinator of the national plan for student entrepreneurship and thus benefits from a prime field: the national Pépite France scheme.

In addition, as part of her consultancy activity at Conseil & Recherche, she takes part in collaborative research projects serving key accounts, on themes related to work transformations and innovation (New uses of work, innovation, employee experience, etc.).