By: Sruli Fruchter  | 

Innovation Lab’s First Class of Startups and Students Get to Work

Yeshiva University’s Innovation Lab is up and running, providing a space for Israeli startups to collaborate with YU students, alumni and faculty alike. Launched in May 2019, the Lab works in conjunction with Yissum, the technology transfer company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The Innovation Lab operates independently as a hub for startups, and also integrates various courses offered at YU’s Sy Syms School of Business and Katz School of Science and Health. The Lab assigns teams of YU students — along with a faculty member — to work with one of the 11 participating startups. It also includes specialized workshops, office space, legal counsel and personalized guidance from senior high-tech and business professionals acting as mentors.

The Lab’s strategic location in the basement of Furst Hall allows for the working space to be easily accessible for students and startups alike to collaborate. Given YU’s campus existing in the greater New York area, participating startups are also able to capitalize on the opportunity of having an office in New York City. 

“It has been a mission of mine to strengthen the connection between the university, New York City, and the Israeli tech ecosystem,” explained Dr. Maria Blekher, director of the Innovation Lab. “We have been focused on creating a hands-on entrepreneurial environment in which Israeli-based startups can grow their U.S. market potential while leveraging YU's community of students, faculty experts and NYC business and tech ecosystems.”

There are approximately 100 students currently involved in the Innovation Lab. Participants explore topics such as product market fit and customer discovery, and also develop go-to-market strategy for the Israeli startups to grow in the American market. Working directly with the startup founders offers students exposure to the business field — whether that be through delineating a road map for the startups’ clients or creating research goals and a framework through running that research — the hands-on makeup of the program allows for experiential learning, a perk valued by many students.

The Lab is funded through a $350,000 state grant procured by State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Island) and former State Assemb. Phil Goldfeder (D-Far Rockaway), who previously served as YU’s Assistant Vice President for Government Relations.

Chayim Mahgerefteh (SSSB ‘20), President of SSSB Student Council, shared, “I got involved with the Innovation Lab because it’s a fantastic opportunity to learn how to grow a startup.”

This semester, six startups are alumni of the Gvahim Entrepreneurship Center, an Israeli NGO that helps new immigrants in Israel with business and career goals; two are portfolio companies of Cactus Capital, Israel’s first student-run venture capital firm which is powered by Ben Gurion University. The Lab is hoping to host 8 to 12 companies per semester.

The Innovation Lab’s portfolio companies include both Incubit Ventures at Gav-Yam Negev High-Tech Park, an alumnus of AtoBe Startup Accelerator at Azrieli College of Engineering, and MassChallenge, a global, zero-equity startup accelerator which was founded in 2009. 

Truvi, a company which uses an AI-based decision support system to provide predictive and actionable life-saving solutions in real-time, is one of the participating companies involved with the Innovation Lab. It seeks to enable decision-makers with the best matching and available solutions for real-time disaster responses.

“American students can have a much more tailored perspective and access to the American way of thinking,” Dr. Nir Tenenbaum, CEO of Truvi, said, “which is led today globally by many American Institutions, NGOs, and donors.” For joining with YU specifically, Tenenbaum remarked that “YU is known for its excellent business school.”

Other featured companies include CaringEye and Sightbit. CaringEye is developing a multi-sensor device that has drivers receive alerts if children in rear-facing car seats are at risk of suffocation, or were left unattended. Sightbit prevents drowning through advanced AI and image recognition technology, along with developing a system which monitors swimmers and allows beaches to guard larger areas of shorelines at a lower cost.

Professional connections, efficient networking, and garnering a positive word-of-mouth are tools utilized in order for YU to get in contact with these types of startup companies. “Today,” Dr. Blekher said, “we have strategic partnerships with Gvahim accelerator and Cactus Capital, and we are continuing to nurture existing connections and build new partnerships.”

Photo Caption: President Ari Berman cut the ribbon on YU’s Innovation Lab on May 16, 2019
Photo Credit: YU News