Temple University’s campus was abuzz to preview a glimpse of Israel’s technological talent.
Not every country gets its own technology showcase on American soil. But then, not every country is Israel, which, according to separate studies done by the World Economic Forum and Bloomberg News in 2015, is actually one of the five most innovative nations in the world.
A sampling of the country’s tech talent was on display at Temple University on Feb. 23, when Hillel, Israel Ideas and Hasbara Fellowships hosted the Startup Nation Technology Fair at the Fox School of Business.
Hillel helped coordinate the event on campus, but it was really the brainchild of Philadelphian Mark Cohen’s nonprofit organization, Israel Ideas, and Hasbara Fellowships, a pro-Israel campus activism organization working with more than 80 colleges across the country.
Cohen started his organization, which is dedicated to spreading awareness and education regarding Israel’s technology and innovation scene, in 2014. The idea originated a few years ago, when he held a program at Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley, where the attendees learned about Israeli technology.
“These events are not in-your-face Israeli events,” Cohen told the Jewish Exponent. “These events are about technology and business that come from Israel.”
He realized there was a need for this on college campuses and quickly partnered with Hasbara. In March 2015, they held their first fairs at New York University and George Washington University, where more than 180 kids attended, more than half of whom were not Jewish.
“Our target market is largely non-Jewish students,” Cohen said. “My goal is to educate the next generation of American leaders.”
The traveling exhibition officially hit the road Feb. 17 and will visit 13 schools before it concludes March 30. Among the stops: the University of Massachusetts, Northeastern University, University of Delaware, Temple, Baruch College, Georgia Tech, Emory University, American University, University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University, University of Miami, Florida Atlantic University and the University of Texas.
The companies participating are: diggidi, GradTrain, Zeekit, EZface, Vikki, RefreshBox, Onward Israel, Internship Israel, Israel Summer Business Academy, jInternship, Silo, OTM Technologies, OrCam and FeedMe. Each business met with students, spoke about what they offer and discussed internships and job possibilities.
Daniel Levitt, the rabbi and executive director of Temple Hillel, agreed with Cohen that this was an opportunity not only for Jewish students, but everyone.
“Really, the idea is to bring Israel to the students of the school in a way that is relevant and not political,” Levitt said.
Michael Allen, a senior at Temple, who is a past president of Hillel, helped plan the program. He said Israel often gets a bad reputation and hoped many non-Jews would attend.
“I hope they get to see a different part of Israel and how much Israel can offer to the world,” Allen said.
One company that had several students buzzing was diggidi, a dating application developed by Leo Moravtchik. About a year and a half ago, Moravtchik was sitting in traffic when he saw a cute girl, but she drove away before he could get her number. So, he created an app that if you see someone you would like to talk to, you click diggidi on your phone to get a unique image. You then show the person your screen with the picture.
It works as soon as they see it — and they will be able to see what it is — from up to 30 feet away. If they want to talk to you, they’ll run diggidi on their phone, and the app will ask, “What did you see?” Once they answer, they connect to a secure, private and anonymous chat with you.
Another startup at the fair was GradTrain, founded by Jacob Bacon. GradTrain uses algorithms that help people from all over the world study at universities abroad and communicate with individuals who studied at that school.
The company began in 2013 when five international students met while studying at the University of Pennsylvania in 2009. The quintet discovered soon after meeting that they all faced similar challenges in finding and gaining acceptance to the right school for them.
The organization helps prospective international graduate students through the process of applying to programs across the globe and accompanies them throughout their academic path abroad. It combines coaching with advanced data analytics tools to allow students to make informed decisions about the right program for their requirements through search criteria and/or background (e.g. nationality, study program of interest, study country/city of interest). Prospective students can request coaching sessions as well.
Since its launch, GradTrain has served users from more than 100 countries and has helped students get accepted to top schools in the United States with full scholarships.
“We’re trying to expose these students out here to our platform because we’re new and a lot of people don’t know about us yet,” Bacon said.
Among the 150 attendees was sophomore Chris Hearn of West Chester, who is a management information systems major. Hearn, a non-Jew, was impressed with the event, which was his first interaction with Israeli businesses.
“I had no idea they were so high up,” he said, referring to Israel’s designation as “startup nation.”
Meanwhile, senior Sam Haveson knows firsthand about the Israeli startup world: She did a two-month internship for Glide, a video-messaging company, in Jerusalem in the summer of 2014, which led to a job with them for 18 months.
“Days like this are really good because they are broadcasting Israeli tech, and I think students should be aware of Israeli tech,” Haveson said.
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