In an effort to discuss how innovation from Israel is improving the world, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania hosted its first Israel Conference .
Thanks to the current unrest, many people associate Israel with conflict and violence. However, according to separate studies done by the World Economic Forum and Bloomberg News in 2015, the Jewish state is actually one of the top-five innovative nations in the world. In an effort to discuss how innovation from Israel is improving the world, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania hosted its first Israel Conference on Oct. 16, where health care, communication, food and water, energy and China were some of the topics discussed.
“Israel has done more in terms of contribution and in terms of innovative activity to solve major challenges around the world” than virtually any other country, said Jerry Wind, the director of the SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management at Wharton, who co-chaired the event with David Reibstein, a marketing professor at Wharton and graduate student Shani Scharfstein.
“The Wharton Israel Conference spotlights innovations addressing the widening gap between rising societal challenges and the public sector’s ability to respond,” Reibstein said. “Wharton must help accelerate this profitable force for good.”
Approximately 150 people attended the event, which featured panelists from multiple industries. Speakers included: Jon Medved, CEO, OurCrowd in New York City and Israel; Ronald Lauder, chairman, and Henry Charrabé, CEO, RWL Water in New York City; Stephen Schork and Gideon Stein, chief research scientists, Mobileye; Assaf Rappaport, CEO, Adallom in California and Israel; and Dorit Dor, vice president of Check Point Software in Tel Aviv.
Scharfstein, 29, who is in the second year of her MBA program at Wharton, was an undergraduate at Tel Aviv University. She is a member of the Israel Club at Wharton, which is for students who lived in Israel. She hoped the conference allowed people to get an idea of just how many investment opportunities there are in Israel.
“Everybody knows Israel is a start-up nation,” she said.
She said Israel often gets a bad reputation because of the ongoing conflict, but there is a lot of positive business taking place.
“I don’t think Israel is doing a good job of communicating the good that is happening,” she added.
Finding speakers took a lot of time and effort, but led to some memorable encounters. For example, she had the opportunity to meet with Joann Waldstreicher, the head of medical affairs at Johnson and Johnson in New Brunswick, N.J, who spoke with her about Israel and business. She videoed the interview and aired it at the conference.
“It was a great experience to see it from her perspective,” Scharfstein said.
One of the speakers at the program was Yaron Talpaz, vice president of global operations for Maccabi Tel Aviv Basketball Club in New York City. Talpaz, who came to the United States when the office opened in New York last year, spent several years working in logistical roles in sports television in Israel.
He said the goal of Maccabi’s U.S. headquarters is to expand its brand throughout America. On Oct. 4, the team made history when it played Emporio Armani Milan at Madison Square Garden in New York City, making it the first time two European teams played each other on U.S. soil. The game drew 9,000 fans, which is 2,000 more than when Maccabi played the Brooklyn Nets a year ago.
“The whole idea is to build things more long-term,” Talpaz said. “You’re talking about a brand that has been building for 40 years. I think what needs to be portrayed more is that we are entrepreneurs. We’re not afraid to go after our dreams. We need to talk about that when we’re talking about Israel.”
Rae and Noah Bernamoff, who own Mile End, a Jewish delicatessen in New York City, provided lunch at the conference. Neither of them had a business background, but followed their hearts — and stomachs — to create Mile End, which has become the vanguard of the new Jewish deli movement in the United States. Rae was an artist and Noah was a musician-turned-lawyer, but he became uninspired with law and they decided to give the food industry a shot. “It’s not a very linear path,” Noah said.
They have a connection to Israel because Rae’s father, Yitzhak, grew up there, prior to immigrating to America in the 1970s.
“I’ve had an opportunity to be exposed to different sides of Israel that are not political or religious,” Rae said. “Look at all the innovations that are coming out of the country.”
Conference attendees Jean Cohen and her husband, Mark, know first-hand about merging Israel and business — they launched Israelideas.org last year. Based in Lower Merion, the company focuses on showcasing Israeli companies to students and communities around the country. Last year, Israelideas.org went to New York University and George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and will be visiting 15 colleges this year in Florida, Massachusetts and California.
Cohen said the conference was a good place to network. “The finest minds are here that have the best interest of Israel.”
One of the students attending the program was Adam Stravitz, a senior at Penn. Stravitz, who is studying finance management systems and engineering, has a strong connection to Israel as he went on the Birthright Excel program two years ago, where he spent 10 weeks in Israel working for BRM Group, a venture capitalist company.
While at BRM, he was able to understand what the business culture is like in Israel and it really fostered his desire to continue in the business world after college. Looking to the
future, Stravitz said he wants to help Israeli companies expand internationally and bring American ones to Israel.
“I think it’s extremely important for students to attend this conference,” he said. “It is important that we engage in this dialogue.”
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