Cultivating an ‘everything is possible’ spirit

How Tel Aviv University’s Global MBA program primes students to become successful entrepreneurs.

SOFAER MBA students Tamar Pruidze and Shuang Qiu in conversation. (photo credit: Courtesy)
SOFAER MBA students Tamar Pruidze and Shuang Qiu in conversation.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It’s not easy in the world of a freelancer, who must actively search for gigs in order to make a living. This challenge is applicable to videographers too, where connecting to potential employers can be difficult.
Which is why Tamar Pruidze, a student at Tel Aviv University’s Sofaer Global MBA program, devised an app designed for videographers, what she calls a “live video stream marketplace.”
“It’s sort of a like Fiver, but specifically for video production,” she explained, referring to the popular app that links freelance writers, graphic designers, translators and more to employers.
This is just one of the many active solutions being produced at the Coller School of Management Global MBA program’s Delta Start-up Studio, the School’s in-house Pre-Accelerator.
In some ways, the intensive two-month studio offered in two of TAU’s MBA programs – focusing on venture, innovation and entrepreneurship (VIE in Coller’s parlance) and offered in English and Hebrew, respectively - is emblematic of the Coller School of Management experience: a positive, nurturing environment where students are given a condensed amount of time to show that when it comes to innovation, the sky’s the limit.
“The idea is we want students to be able to experience a true venture that is their own,” Dr. Iris Ginzburg, the head of VIE those two programs, said.
“What does it feel to work on something you wanted to create and see it develop from the ground up? We wanted students to bring their own experience and dreams and I think we’ve been successful in that,” she said.
She recalls one Sofaer Global MBA alum telling her, “‘I think I want to start something new, but I so miss the spirit of the Delta where everything was possible.’ We want students to work hard and not be afraid and be together to show that we are not alone,” she said.
Under the watchful and supportive eye of experienced mentors, students are able to dream up solutions to problems and are encouraged to take advantage of everything Tel-Aviv’s start-up ecosystem has to offer.
Once their project is complete, they present it to leaders in venture capital firms in Israel. Some of them proceed to present it at the annual Coller $100,000 Start-up Competition and perhaps also develop their idea with the help of TAU Ventures, an early-stage capital venture fund aimed at making pre-seed funding available to student and alumni start-ups coming out of the university.
Other ideas that were presented include a community app for mothers suffering from postpartum depression, a platform for burgeoning designers that enables them to rent a shelf in a store, and an app for upcoming musicians who are looking for the closest place where they can have a jam session.
“I can’t promise you that one of them will within a half year become a huge start-up, but I can promise you that they will use what they’ve learned in Delta moving forward. They understand what it’s like to be part of a team, find solutions and think outside of the box,” Ginzburg said. “This is an experience that will serve them for years.”
While TAU’s Coller School of Management is 52 years old and has a student body of some 2,900 students a year, its Global MBA program is just nearing the one decade mark and is quickly becoming a hotbed for innovation and entrepreneurship in Israel and beyond.
“Our Global MBA program is unique in conveying the startup nation idea,” Coller School of Management’s dean, Prof. Moshe Zviran, said. “We know that more than 90% of new ventures fail, but usually due to lack of management. Our idea is to foster new ventures and, secondly, to ensure that managers of those new ventures have the capacity and tool box to run them properly and hopefully be more successful.”
“We aim to be one of the top five in the world,” Zviran says bluntly of the Coller School, which was dedicated by British financier Jeremy Coller in 2016.
In Zviran’s view, the school is on the right path to achieving that goal.
“According to the recent Pitchbook ranking the Sofaer Global MBA program is ranked 13 in the world in producing entrepreneurs who recruited money from venture capital firms and ranked 8 in graduates who started unicorns – a company whose market value is more than a billion dollars,” he said. “With limited budgets on one hand and being isolated in a place called Israel, which is basically an island – not literally but metaphorically – being No. 13 definitely attests that our students and faculty are top notch.”
So how does a relatively small school ascend the ranks so quickly? For Zviran, the answer is a simple one: become a beacon for innovation for students across Israel and around the world.
As such, the Sofaer Global MBA program is entirely in English and seeks to attract the world’s best and brightest entrepreneurs.
“Students sometimes give up on other opportunities they have in the States or in Europe to come here,” he said. “They come based on Israel’s reputation, and once they are here, all of them fall in love with the country. They understand Israel is more than what they hear and see in the news. And they take this positive image of Israel when they go back home.”
Pruidze is one of those students, who chose Tel Aviv over Paris when she came to TAU.
Shuang Qiu, another Sofaer Global MBA student, hails from China and has studied there and the United States, but chose to do his MBA in Israel.
“I wanted to go somewhere in the Middle East and Israel was a perfect opportunity for me.
This is the best MBA program in the region. I want to be more involved in Israeli society and its ecosystem of innovation,” Qiu explained.
During his time here, Qiu not only basked in the knowledge of what he learned in school, but became fascinated with Israelis in general.
“I think Israel is so different from other places. While most people are Jews, they all come from different backgrounds. Jewish people have diverse international backgrounds, not only their religious background, but also countries they used to be from,” he marveled. “It’s more open here, not as much as in the States, but more than Africa, Europe and China. People here are open to different ideas. They try to do more, not just sit back and wait.
“Education in Tel Aviv is different from my previous educational background in the United States and China. Here, I know more about how to be a person of action. In the States it was more about theories and observation. Here in Israel, teachers urge you to use what you study and practice your ideas,” he added.
Qiu, who plans to go back to China after his studies here, hopes to maintain a connection to Israel.
That constant exchange of knowledge where international students seek to continue their work with Israel not only helps the school’s global reputation, but is also a win for Israel in general.
Zviran notes that TAU’s global success is partly due to its status as being the only business school in Israel that is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. This accreditation has enabled the School to run a truly global student exchange program, under which Coller students can go on a semester abroad and students from abroad come to study at Coller.
With partnerships and agreements with roughly 100 business and management schools worldwide – including the very top ones, such as Wharton, Kellogg, Booth, and HEC – Coller students can go on a semester abroad and students from abroad come to study at Coller.
But ultimately, Ginzburg explains, TAU’s Global MBA program tries to teach their students something that can’t be found in textbooks: “If you do the right thing, you’ll find the right solutions or a different path. We help students navigate strange and unpredictable roads.”
This article was written in coordination with Tel Aviv University.