TigerTrek in Israel: Global Perspectives Across Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

Participants on Princeton’s first international Tiger Trek.

Silicon Valley, situated in the foothills of southern California, is home to some of the world’s biggest and most popular tech companies — Google, Apple, HP, Intel, Oracle, etc., and more. But, Silicon Valley is not the only tech capital. Israel is a country of approximately 8.7 million people (about the size of New Jersey), yet they have the highest number of start-ups per capita and the highest number of venture capital investments per capita of any country in the world. Israel secures its position as the country with the third-highest number of public companies listed on NASDAQ after the U.S. and China. Two sophomores, Daniella Cohen and Ron Miasnik, set out to introduce Princeton students to the factors that make Israel the “Startup Nation.”

Together, they founded Israel TigerTrek with a mission to explore the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Israel. The trip took place over the intersection break of 2020. Participants got a chance to have discussions with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and social innovators in Israel, as well as explore the vast culture and history that make Israel all that it is.

Israel TigerTrek built off of the existing framework of two other TigerTrek trips on campus. Founded over 8 years ago, the TigerTreks are student-run trips to Silicon Valley and New York, giving undergraduates at Princeton University the opportunity to learn firsthand from business and tech experts. Cohen and Miasnik wanted to take the TigerTrek to Israel because, as they put it, “There is so much we can learn from a global perspective.”

In the beginning, they just had a vision. They needed funders, participants, speakers, sponsors, and more. So, they got started in the fall of 2018. They pitched the idea to the Entrepreneurship Club and the Center for Jewish Life. Soon, they started planning. They put together proposals, budgets, and spearheaded organizing the logistics of the trip — visas, flights, hotel reservations, safety precautions, and more. They wanted the trip to be interdisciplinary, so they met with various departments and stakeholders across campus. Over a year later, the trip was a success.

Cohen and Miasnik attribute a host of factors in explaining what makes Israel the “Startup Nation.” They emphasize the Israeli culture of fierceness — of not being afraid to ask questions and challenge authority — that stems from the word “chutzpah” which translates to audacity in English. “Chutzpah is a big part of Israeli culture and it also feeds into the start-up culture because founders have this fierce mindset,” said Cohen.

Cohen and Miasnik also pointed to the tense geopolitical scenario that confronts Israel in explaining the nature of the success of the Israeli entrepreneurial ecosystem. With Israel being in a tense situation since the beginning, “Many technological advances come from necessity,” said Miasnik. “In industries like cyber security and physical security, Israel innovates because they have to.”

Another factor that Cohen and Miasnik discussed is the military in Israel. Every Israeli citizen, male or female, is mandated to serve in the Israeli military after finishing high school.

“A lot of entrepreneurs come from the elite technological intelligence units, where they are trained in the most cutting-edge technologies in the world, ” said Miasnik. “When they leave the military, they’re uniquely prepared to start companies.”

Due to the paucity of jobs in the world’s top-tier companies in Israel, an urgent need to innovate, and a requisite service in the military, Israeli start-ups and tech industries undergo what may seem an unconventional route to the U.S.. Much of the endeavor to create start-ups and innovate stems from a strong sense of national pride and as a means to give back to Israel and genuinely make a difference in the lives of fellow Israelis.

While Israel is one of the top in terms of tech, they remain one of the poorest according to the OECD. Cohen and Miasnik sought to explore the interplay between the tensions across Israeli populations, tech, and inequity. They visited Israel’s top organizations working to solve these issues: Appleseeds, Presentense, and a government investment initiative. The participants learned first-hand about marginalized communities across Israel and dove deep into the complex solutions being spearheaded today: on the ground entrepreneurship training, tech education, grants to minority founders, women’s empowerment and community initiatives, and more.

Cohen said, “Learning about the tensions in Israel through a tech perspective left us with more questions than answers. Across the world, tech can create jobs, opportunity, and push frontiers of what’s possible, but tech can also create inequities. We have so much to learn from all sides of Israel’s tech scene.” Leaving the trip, Cohen and Miasnik hope that participants learned lessons about not just what makes a successful company, or founder mindset, but how to be entrepreneurs in all parts of their lives: identifying problems, creating meaningful and responsible solutions.

“The trip taught us how to foster an entrepreneurial environment and how to systematically build a culture where people aren’t afraid to challenge authority and say what’s on their mind,” mentioned Miasnik. “From Israel’s example, we can learn to instill that sense of common purpose within individuals, to chase causes and problems that matter.”

Increasing the scope of entrepreneurship can help us all be better leaders in the companies we hope to build, the initiatives we want to start, and as we face problems moving through the world. Understanding the nature of the global entrepreneurial ecosystems in today’s world can enable us to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation for the world and those trying to change it.

-The article was written by Sam Pathak ’23 and the interview was conducted by Nirakar Sapkota ’22.

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