Israel Incubator Project – Bringing the Start-up Nation to the Wilf Campus
With recruiting season in motion for both full time jobs and summer internships, many YU students are feeling a great deal of pressure to ace their interviews and secure that lucrative position. Unfortunately, these students not only face the standard obstacles that business students attending non target schools face, but also additional obstacles by virtue of attending a school with a dual curriculum. For example, since students can end class as late as 8 or 10pm on some weekdays, attaining an internship during the school year is difficult, if not impossible. As a result, students lack prior work experience that could help them qualify for a position.
Additionally, many first year students coming back from spending a year or two abroad in Israel don’t even have a GPA to put on their resumes when applying for summer internships during their first semester in the fall. This was the case for Joseph Sowalsky, an upper-sophomore currently studying mathematics and finance in the hope of one day becoming an actuary. Sowalsky explained that “most actuarial internships recruit early in the fall semester. As a sophomore with the working course knowledge of a freshman, and without a GPA to apply with at the time, I was at a big disadvantage compared to the other applicants.” To further compound problems, while YU is known for its tremendous network of alumni, sometimes alumni find it difficult to assist students when their resumes are missing the vital component of work experience in a related field, or even practical work experience at all.
While there are certainly various approaches to how YU could address this issue, Dean Michael Strauss of the Sy Syms School of Business has thankfully been working diligently on his own creative and exciting solution. Dean Strauss, an Associate Dean, Professor of Management, and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Sy Syms School of Business, and Assistant to the Provost, has advocated for, and raised funds to create, an incubator for Israeli startups on YU’s Wilf Campus. After Governor Andrew Cuomo took a trip to Israel, Dean Strauss along with the general counsel of YU met with councilmen and senators to pitch their plan to start an incubator in Yeshiva University. From YU’s perspective, this project was driven by the needs and recent growth in student interest in the entrepreneurship world, as well as the much publicized burgeoning Israeli startup ecosystem.
The plan as currently constituted is to partner with up to ten technology companies in Israel that are not only looking for interns but are willing and dedicated to help them grow. These tech companies will be in their initial stages of growth and will likely still be developing requisite code and algorithms to build their products. After going through an intense screening process, eight to ten YU students will be selected to take part in this prestigious year long internship. These students will be given mentors not only from within the school but also current alumni that span across many fields such as law, management, marketing, and venture capital. The students will be given the opportunity to hear from this tremendous professional network on a weekly basis either in person or through conference calls.
The plan is to build a state of the art area spanning three thousand square feet in Furst Hall where the interns can work and hold conferences and meetings with coworkers from halfway around the globe. This will give the interns an advantage given the time discrepancy and long distance from their actual firms. To go along with the amazing opportunity of interning during the busy schedule of a YU student, the program also hopes to offer an opportunity to extend the internship into the summer where students would get the opportunity to live in Israel and work for the firms which they have been interning all year for.
Dean Strauss has long term plans for the program too, and plans to expand it in the future by adding many more students. Future plans will be to take some area somewhere in the Washington heights and find a space which is ten to fifteen thousand square feet and build a larger facility there. This will create a stronger base for the program, and will enable students to to join local tech companies from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
By creating a vibrant internship program, the Israel incubator project will level the playing field between Yeshiva University and other business schools that already house such incubators. As Dean Strauss explained, “It is very important to give students a chance to take what they learn in class and mesh it with real life experiences.” This program is aimed to help the students gain first hand work experience in conjunction with their rigorous academic curriculum, all while providing them with a resume booster and something to use as a leverage point in interviews.
Lastly, the Israel Incubator Project will cater to all types of students, not just those planning on majoring in business related areas. Dean Strauss anticipates that many students with diverse academic interests will apply, and encourages everyone to learn more about the program and its offerings. According to Dean Strauss, those students who already have exemplified entrepreneurial leadership skills, either by working for startups in the past or by creating their own, will be given special consideration for acceptance into this program.
The sky's the limit for this program, and it really is up to us the students of Yeshiva University to ensure that this program is prosperous. With its anticipated success will come many benefits, not just for the students involved but for the university itself. Dean Strauss already mentors high school students at MTA and SAR--he recently held a Shark Tank startup pitch event at MTA--and believes that this incubator program has the potential to attract high school students that are debating what college to attend, and will now be enticed by a leading startup mentoring program in the confines of YU’s campus.
The program also gives the opportunity for current undergraduate students to help each other grow and learn more about one another. The goal is not to find one talented person who is good in all areas but rather a team that is made up of many students that show exceptional talent, interest, and drive in their specific areas of study. Dean Strauss explained that administrators and faculty are working diligently on many initiatives at Yeshiva University which will be rolled out over the next few years, all with the objective of enhancing students’ experience and learning while at YU. From the perspective of improving students’ business acumen and practical business experience, we should all be excited and thankful that the Israel incubator program will be part of these university-wide initiatives.