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Learning about innovation in Israel

MBA students in Tel AvivI was fortunate to co-lead UNC Kenan Flagler’s first iTrek to Israel in March 2017. The iTrek is partially sponsored by a nonprofit organization whose mission is to build greater understanding of and appreciation for Israel among rising leaders by empowering MBA students to lead trips to Israel with their classmates. My co-lead, Chadd Citron (MBA ’17) and I created a nine-day trip that took us all over Israel.

Our goal was to introduce our classmates to Israel’s history, innovation and culture. I can confidently say that we succeeded in this mission. Planning the trip gave me the opportunity to flex my leadership muscles, and the trip gave me a chance to experience the country through classmates’ eyes.

One of the biggest takeaways trip was learning how Israel became a hub of innovation and success – including a willingness to accept economic risks and an eagerness to learn.

Israel invests in innovation and defense technology, which helps create commercially viable products sold globally. The USB flash drive, the cherry tomato and MobilEye – the digital camera in your car’s side-view mirrors that warns you of potential collision – were all developed in Israel along with other medical, scientific, agricultural and defense inventions.

We experienced this innovation first-hand when we visited three startups and an air force base:

  • SodaStream, maker of the consumer home carbonation product
  • Roomer, a travel marketplace company that allows users to list their non-refundable hotel reservations for sale and offer them to buyers at a discounted price
  • Windward, a maritime data and analytics company, bringing unprecedented visibility to the maritime domain

We also spent time at a relatively new winery, Assaf Winery, where the owner shared insights about living in the area and the challenges they have overcome to grow viable grapes.

Our trip was not all serious – we had cultural and fun experiences. In Jerusalem we learn about the connections between Christianity, Judaism and Islam. We walked through the streets of the Old City and toured the Kotel Tunnels, the underground portion of the Western Wall. On a more somber note, we toured Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Memorial Museum, with a local Israeli guide whose grandmother survived the genocide.

We floated in the Dead Sea covered in its mud minerals, and spent the night sleeping under the stars in a Bedouin tent. We hiked Mt. Masada to see the sunrise and learn about its  history, and ate family-style dinners at some top restaurants in Tel Aviv, tasting amazing Middle Eastern cuisine. We heard from Benjamin Netanyahu’s former director of communications and public diplomacy and a reporter for the Jerusalem Post’s Knesset (Israeli parliament). We toured Old Jaffa, Nazareth, Caesarea and the Galilee Sea, and took ATVs to an old Syrian hospital along the Syrian border.

Our group learned, grew and had fun as we explored Israel. I believe we left with a better understanding of the region and greater appreciation for Israeli culture and innovation. I am delighted to leave the legacy of this trip at UNC Kenan-Flagler. Upon our return we discussed Israeli innovation in classes, and I feel certain what we learned will stay with us in the months and years to come.

By Allison Callahan (MBA ’17)