How We Established A University Entrepreneurship Center and 6 Lessons I’ve Learnt By Doing That
After two years as the Managing Director of The Hebrew University Entrepreneurship Center, and before moving on to my next adventure, I want to share the main lessons I’v learnt. It should be especially helpful for leaders of startup incubation focused communities, either private or public funded.
I will divide it to two posts, the first part will be about what we have built and in it I will describe the organization structure we created and the different programs and activities. The second part will be about achievements, failures and lessons learnt. I will write about the culture that was driving the spirit (or maybe it’s the opposite way, but that’s for another post) and some tips and tricks I’ve learnt during this time, mostly about dos and don’ts for first time entrepreneurs in their most early days and for those who help them.
We accomplished quite a lot despite being on a budget and the reason is the startup spirit combined with a clear vision. Some of the success is due to repeatable steps which I will present in these posts, mainly in the second part, and unbundle into first principles.
A brief history and a thank-you to the main characters who organized the party will be in the end of this post, before that, allow me to jump to the main dish.
We built four different types of programs, kind of departments. First is the Technological Incubators department, which is totally about venture-creation, then the International Programs which is a mix between venture-creation and education, just like the Social Incubators, and then the Education department which is about pure education and includes the academic courses we are partners of, including our high school students course, and educational events and meet-ups activity.
The Structure & Programs We Created
The Technological Incubators Department - All-in Venture Creation
The main activity of the entrepreneurship center is creating new startups through the technological incubators. The participants are usually last year students, university alumni or university employees. In the second year we divided our technological incubator into two separate programs, Digital for Software/Hardware and Science for Chemistry/Biology/Applied-Physics. There is some overlap, but as deeper the science behind the venture, the more likely it would be in the Science program.
One of the special elements of these programs is that one does not have to have a team in the starting point. The first 3–4 month of each batch are about team creation and business concept creation. Then we have a judging panel to pick those with the highest potential to build successful companies, and they go through another 4–6 months period of acceleration. We meet once a week 6pm to midnight, to be accessible to full time students.
We are taking a strict approach with these programs, no BS just venture creation, so the dropout was significant. That’s because the goal was to focus on the teams that can build a successful company, and less about education.
About 100 participants went through the incubators during these two years, and about 17 teams graduated (about 40 participants). As of today 6 teams have raised funding (Gamitee, Convizit, Talklet, say2eat, Endovitech and one stealth mode digital health startup). Seven other teams are kicking and looking for funding or simply bootstrapping upstream.
The International Programs Department is Where The Fun Begins
The international activities started when we adopted the summer international program TIP , founded by Dr. Elishai Ezra, a multidisciplinary researcher and educator, and a good friend. TIP is a two months program in which the fellows are getting exposed to several disciplines like computer vision, bioengineering, big-data and more.
During 6 weeks, the fellows get both basics of each discipline and some top notch industry or academic lectures. Then they have a 2 weeks incubator to develop (preferably-) multi-disciplinary ventures, and there are actually 5 teams that took these projects into companies (Winwin, Mathodix, Cyclinic, Alma, and Talklet which then participated in our incubator). During the program the fellows are meeting with veteran entrepreneurs and investors, and the main goal of the program is to inspire and empower leaders and to give them tools to better shape their future.
One of the best things in TIP is getting friends from all over the world, mainly Brazil though, haha, so many Brazilian TIPsters.
We have established two more international programs. First was HIPA, a collaboration with Fraunhofer, lead by Dr. Haya Shulman. HIPA is a cyber-security project-based academic incubator, for German and Israeli Computer-Science graduate students. The program consists of one week in Israel, two months online, and then one week in Germany.
We are also running a tech/science course for Taglit-Birthright participants. It’s kind of a nano-TIP program, consists of 40 academic hours which are a crash course on Machine Learning, Big Data and Bioengineering.
Social Incubators Department - The Holy Zone
Since day one we wanted to have a social incubator but didn’t have the budget so waited for the right partner to come along. Then came Haruv Institute and Mehalev and we partnered to create One in Five — The Child Maltreatment Prevention Hub which works to grow new initiatives in the field of child abuse and neglect prevention. The Hub was established following a research which indicated that one out of every five children in Israel is a victim of abuse or neglect. The 1st cohort graduated in Jan 2018, you can read about them in the OneinFive booklet (Hebrew only).
One other program in the social incubators department is the social accelerator we run with the students union at the Mt.Scopus campus.
Education Department - Entrepreneurial Knowledge For All
Two main activities in the education department are the high-school academic entrepreneurship course, and events.
We have established the high-school course with the support of the Jerusalem Development Authority, and it’s basically the same project-based course as we teach in the undergraduate entrepreneurship seminar.
Other than that we held events for different audiences and subjects, mainly with the support of Asper Center and the JDA.
The hub is where everything is happening, either in the open space or in our classroom, so many great teams had started in our space at Safra campus. The offices are occupied by the center’s alumni startups, and startups of university alumni that did not went through the programs. It’s a growing community of young startups supporting each other and we have just said good-bye to Blink - A company that started in our space with 3 cofounders, and in less then 2 years got to more than 20 employees. We are now getting fresh newcomers as some of the startups that graduated from the 2017 incubation programs have decided to reside at the university hub.
The Very Brief History and Some Thank-You
It all begun with two tenacious figures, the former Dean of the Faculty of Science Prof. Yigal Erel and former Vice Dean of the Business School Prof. Niron Hashai, later joined by the university TTO Yissum. They decided to bridge academy and industry and let nothing stop them from getting the entrepreneurship center on its feet as part of their plan. We got the green light on September 2015 and officially started the programs on January 2016. Thanks for giving me the keys, it was one hell of a ride.
Thank you to Dr. Noa Lapidot for managing the Science incubation program and helping a lot in managing the center as well. Your wisdom and experience made everything easier. Thank you to all our partners and sponsors, including LeumiTech and Barnea&Co. and to all those who supported us like the Asper Family. Special thank you to those who worked with me along the way, Noa, Ruty Geva Head of social activities, Elishai and Marvin Ngcongo Directors of TIP, Dafna Koby the teacher of the high-school educational course and Julia Miller who was heading the community and communications on our first year. The One in Five incubator is partnered by BCG and funded by the generosity of Gil Mandelzis (Founder of Traiana and Capitolis) and the Schusterman family. The main engine there is Prof. Asher Ben-Arieh who’s heading Haruv Institute and Anat Ofir heading Mehalev.
That’s It For The ‘What We Did’ Part
In the second part of this post I will dive in to the planning, the execution, the numbers and lessons learnt. The second part is coming soon I hope, though it’s a heavily time consuming task so I’d appreciate if you show me some love by clapping or commenting or whatever so I know there’s demand. Anyway, hope you enjoyed so far.