(May 26, 2022 / JNS) An Israeli app that connects top-flight chefs with hungry customers. A startup that lets apartment dwellers in Tel Aviv, London or New York share everything from scooters to vacuums. A venture capital fund that spots Palestinian tech ideas.
This wasn’t the typical itinerary for a trip to Israel for Princeton University students. In fact, it was so atypical we didn’t even go to Israel—we did it all in New York’s Silicon Alley.
“Israel Tiger Trek-NYC” was designed to connect Princeton students with a passion for entrepreneurship like us to startup founders, venture capital veterans and CEOs who can mentor, inspire and offer long-term networking opportunities.
There’s no shortage of New Yorkers who fit the bill. But our program had a specific focus on Israeli entrepreneurs. The trip showcased the Israeli business mindset and approach. It allowed us to explore the country’s impact and reach our own conclusions about Israel on our own terms through the lens of entrepreneurship.
Over the past year, we’ve seen many headlines and social media posts about the tense relationship between US college students and Israel, mostly focused on campus conflict. But the Tiger Trek trip demonstrates that the most powerful connections happen quietly every day, far from the world of political activism.
The Tiger Trek program was created and organized by the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, which has sent students to New York and Silicon Valley. In 2019, students Ron Miasnik and Daniella Cohen developed a new Tiger Trek experience in Israel focused on exploring the “startup nation,” with 18 students traveling to Tel Aviv. Due to COVID, however, this year’s experience was reengineered as a four-day trip in April, still focused on Israeli entrepreneurs based in New York.
Princeton’s Center for Jewish Life-Hillel is a partner in the planning and funding of Israel Tiger Trek.
Like the participants in the earlier Tel Aviv trek, we had the chance to learn about Israel’s iconic status as the startup nation and the lessons it offers as we think about bringing our own ideas to market in the years to come.
The 20 students who participated came from diverse religious, geographic and academic backgrounds—for example, one of us is Jewish, one of us is not, one of us is from the Middle East and one is from the Midwest. We were united by our interest in innovation and entrepreneurship.
Once in New York, we met with nearly two dozen entrepreneurs. Among them were the co-founders of Wood Spoon, an app that connects home chefs with local customers. The platform builds on and blends the gig economy models that have been so successful in everything from Uber to GrubHub.
They talked about the challenges of starting their business when there weren’t enough delivery people available. Their attitude that you can’t always wait for things to happen, you need to make them happen, was born from the mentality of a country that faces continual conflict.
We also spoke with the founder of TULU, which was launched in Tel Aviv in 2018 and has since expanded to London and New York. The platform allows urban apartment dwellers to share kitchen fryers, scooters, athletic equipment and just about everything else in order to cut down on consumption and space. We were impressed by their eco-friendly, entrepreneurial approach.
Yadin Kaufman, a Princeton alum who made aliyah to Israel, met with us on Zoom. He discussed his Middle East VC fund, which invests in Palestinian tech companies. It was fascinating to hear him rethink the best ways to recognize talent, drive innovation and support the highest potential ideas.
Since this trip was about Israel, of course, politics were never far from the conversation.
Throughout the meetings—as well as our Krav Maga class and Shabbat dinners with Princeton families—we talked about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the religious-secular divide. But we also talked about venture capital and launching companies.
Unlike more traditional Israel trips sponsored by Jewish organizations or the Israeli government, Israel Tiger Trek-NYC wasn’t designed for us to reach specific conclusions about Israel, Zionism or the BDS movement. And it showcased Israel’s complexities in nuanced ways that, too often, are missing from campus debates about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
That’s what made the experience so valuable and what will serve future students well when Israel Tiger Trek returns next year to Tel Aviv.
When we debriefed after our four days in New York, we each had a fuller understanding of Israel’s role in the global economy. We also had new ideas about the paths we could take with our own careers.
Best of all, a few of us even had leads on summer opportunities with startups. Definitely not what you’d expect on a typical Israel trip for college students.
Laya Reddy is a Chicago native who just finished her first year at Princeton and plans to major in economics. Avigail Gilad is a Tel Aviv native graduating from Princeton this spring with a bachelor’s degree in architecture.
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