Birthright Israel has finished the first cohort of a new program called “Excel Ventures” this summer. In this innovative, first of its kind, global initiative, American entrepreneur students from leading universities in the US and Israeli graduates of elite technology units of the IDF take part in a technology startup training boot camp.
During the 10-week intensive program, participants spent their time in the startup scene of Tel Aviv and became partners in the initial development stages of their very own startups.
These ventures served as an accelerator for these young ambitious entrepreneurs going through all the critical stages of bringing a startup to life: from putting a team together, creating prototypes, and finding investors to create groundbreaking new concepts.
However, as program manager Adam Lazovsky said, “Birthright Ventures is more than just a business program. It empowers and accelerates the participants, and enables the participants to meet with the best and brightest Israel has to offer.”
Compared to the normal 10-day Birthright experience, in which all Jews are invited to participate, this exclusive program is looking for the cream of the crop in terms of business acumen, marketing, and computer sciences. Therefore, the program’s application process is quite rigorous.
Lazovsky said that the ideal candidate for the program is “someone with an entrepreneurial mindset… someone who wakes up and wants to change the reality around them, along with having a propensity for risk-taking, the ability to function under ambiguity, being a team player, has strong Jewish values, and who wants to foster their relationship with Israel.”
While he said that technical abilities are always nice, those are soft skills and do not make or break a candidate’s eligibility. “We’re looking for people with the right mindset… not necessarily with a formal education—we have people from the IDF who didn’t go through school.”
While the application process is lengthy—including two interviews, a group project, and even a venture proposal—it is done to ensure that the cohort is productive and successful, and so that the participants get the most out of the program.
“We choose candidates not only on individual terms, but also how they fit within the framework of the cohort as a whole, ” Lazovsky explained. “Maybe someone is good for a cohort one year, but that person wouldn’t fit into a cohort another year because the dynamics in the cohort may not be productive.”
The program includes seminars and lectures given by Israeli tech experts, including the head of Discount Bank and the developer of the Iron Dome missile-defense system, and a very involved alumni association in conjunction with the Birthright Israel Excel Fellowship Program—a sister Birthright program for college students which sets up the participants with internships in various prominent Israeli based multi-national corporations. These alumni, amongst others, help Birthright Ventures participants succeed in founding their startups via feedback sessions, mentoring, and helping participants gain access to venture capitalists for funding.
There is also a non-business aspect to the program, with weekend trips all over Israel to help the participants strengthen their connection with the Jewish state and get more in touch with their Judaism.
Having been on a Birthright trip doesn’t preclude anyone from participating in this program, but participants are ineligible from going on a 10-day Birthright trip afterwards.
Although Birthright Ventures has had only one cohort, there have already been notable successes.
“Industry experts told us that success would be having one of the teams in the cohort continue on with their ventures after the program ended, ” Lazovsky said. “I’m proud to say that we have five out of our six teams continuing to develop their ideas, with one team even having a member go back to the US to open an office for their startup there.”
“This is exactly what we strive for, ” he continued, “international cooperation and connections.”
The Birthright Ventures is geared towards recent graduates under 30 years old, and lasts for ten weeks in the summer.