Creating a Startup State of Mind

Sy Syms School of Business EMBA Students Head to Israel

Long known as the Startup Nation, Israel has the largest number of startups per capita in the world, around 1 for every 1,400 people, according to Forbes. Some of them have made it into the big leagues. Waze, a GPS navigation software app, was sold to Google for $1.3 billion; Mobileye, a developer of autonomous vehicle technology, went to Intel for $15.3 billion.

What is behind the startup phenomenon? Many factors. But certainly innovation—the topic that was front and center at this year’s Sy Syms School of Business EMBA summer residency program—is one of them.

From July 1 to July 5, 2019, ten first-year EMBA students, under the guidance of Mark Finkel, director of the EMBA program and clinical associate professor of management, came together in Tel Aviv, the heart of Israeli entrepreneurship.

Packing a semester’s worth of work into five days, students took a deep dive into the theory and practice of innovation. Their assignment was to solve an actual business problem for an actual startup: launching an Israeli-based fitness app (Laliway) into the American market. Working in teams, they applied the innovation concepts they learned during the course of the week from lectures and workshops led by an array of businesspeople. Among them were Nadav Regev, the founder of UpCommunity, a three-person startup that manufactures residential pods for dense urban areas, and Haggi Hochberger, head of innovation for Israel’s second largest bank, Bank Leumi. Additional lecturers included representatives from Mobileye, TLV Library (a startup accelerator), Our Crowd (an investment platform) and SIT (one of Israel’s top innovation consulting firms.)

(Top left) Yael Zelnick, Founder and CEO of Laliway, discusses case-study presentations with YU’s EMBA students

In the sessions led by SIT’s Tal Ahr-Lev Eidelman, students got a crash course on how and why startups, as well as established businesses, need to rethink and replace typical approaches to problem solving. SIT uses the “systematic inventive thinking” methodology which scores of organizations around the world have embraced to develop the culture and practices that foster innovation. The methodology strives to break “cognitive fixedness” so one can arrive at innovative solutions and strategies in a repeatable way.

The concept of “cognitive fixedness” was one of the program’s biggest takeaways for Alison Wasserman Gross. “I realized that we all have a tendency to think and problem-solve in the same way.” Gross, who like several of her fellow EMBA students runs her own business, went on to comment that “the lessons we learned were not classic classroom lessons but life lessons about thinking outside of the box, or thinking about the box differently.”

For many of the EMBA students, their five days immersed in startup culture was a collective “eureka” moment. “Our instructors constantly challenged us to think differently and approach situations in much more creative ways. It completely changed the way I think,” noted Avram Klein, an executive in retail food distribution. His sentiment was echoed by Brendon Ginzburg, who is a fellow student and a physician. “The program really taught us how to challenge the status quo and apply creative solutions to almost any sort of situation. It was an amazing experience that surpassed my expectations. Five days were not enough.”