uconn abroad

Winter in Israel: Day 5

And on the fifth day there was light! Up until this point in our trip, our understanding of what makes Israel’s startup culture unique was almost entirely secondhand. That all changed today with our visits to a couple of successful Israeli “startups,” and to an organization that is committed to building stronger business ties between Israeli and the US.

The day kicked off with our tour guide’s daily download on what President Trump said while we were sleeping. One theme that has emerged during our trip is the strength of the relationship between the US and Israel – both politically and economically. Our guide’s interest in President Trump’s tweets and US policy is not a recent phenomenon, but rather reflects a bond that started in 1948, when, under President Truman, the US became the first country to recognize the Jewish State. President Trump’s decision to see the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 through has undoubtedly made US-Israel policy a hot topic of conversation, but it has also been a decision that has strengthened US-Israeli ties. Based on an admittedly limited sample of daily conversations with local Israelis, President Trump’s decision is not as controversial as it seemed in the US. Interestingly, many of the Israelis that describe President Trump as mashugana (crazy), also tend to respect his chutzpah (boldness) – a trait that Israelis embrace in themselves and one which is often cited as a distinguishing characteristic of Israeli startup culture.

Billboards showing support of President Trump in Jerusalem

Our first meeting of the day was with the US-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD). Approximately 40 years ago, the US and Israeli governments established an endowment for the Foundation with the stated mission to encourage cooperation between Israeli and American companies by providing funding and assistance in facilitating strategic partnerships for developing joint products or technologies. The idea was to focus on technology that benefits humanity, not on profitability. Because of this, BIRD typically attracts startups in the life sciences or environmental sectors, or projects with longer lifecycles that tend to be less popular with VCs. Similar to the risk-free grants offered to Israeli startups by the Israeli government, if the venture fails, BIRD does not require repayment. It also does not receive equity or IP rights. Since 1977, BIRD has invested in over 1,000 projects, which have yielded direct and indirect revenues of over $10 billion. Over the years, two more endowments have been established – BIRD Energy and Home Land Security/First Responders – reaffirming and promoting the strength of the ties between the US and Israel through entrepreneurial collaboration.

Vendor selling candy in Carmel Market in Tel Aviv

After a quick stop for lunch in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market, we travelled to the modern planned city of Modi’in to visit BriefCam, where we met with the company’s CTO and Regional Sales Manager. We first heard about BriefCam during our visit to Yissum, Hebrew University’s tech transfer office, on the first day of our trip. In the mid-2000s, Professor Peleg had the idea to develop an AI-driven technology that would make sifting through video as easy as running a search on Google. After having the U.S Department of Defense observe early prototypes – once again highlighting the strong bond between the US and Israel, this time in the university tech transfer context – the engine behind concept, Video Synopsis® began to be more seriously developed, and the company opened a US branch in 2010. The ability to analyze hours of CCTV footage in minutes, or the ability to allow users to search surveillance cameras for, say, every person wearing a red T-shirt or every person walking a particular path, can prove to be an invaluable tool in police investigations. For example, in 2013, the technology was successfully used in the Boston Marathon Bombing investigation to help identify the Tsarnaev brothers. Hartford is another city that utilizes the technology. Tom Edlund, BriefCam’s CTO, credited Hartford with using the technology in innovative ways that has helped drive the development of the technology. Hartford takes a holistic view of safe city security and uses the technology in ways that promote the local economy by decreasing local crime. For instance, Hartford uses the technology to identify drug dealers to make the streets safer for pedestrians, and it uses it during Yard Goats games to make sure that the areas around the stadium remain safe. BriefCam offers a very impressive solution that cities like Hartford is helping to refine and improve. BriefCam is currently working to grow its sales force and target a variety of other industries from retail to urban planning.

A member of Kibbutz Magal describing a drip irrigation solution Netafim developed for UNESCO.

The final stop of the day was at Netafim, located on Kibbutz Magal. Netafim started as a drip irrigation system that was intended to address the local challenges of growing agriculture in a desert with a limited water supply, into a full agriculture solution that touches all aspects of the growing cycle. Netafim is beyond the startup phase and is now a global business that enjoyed over $1 billion in revenue last year. Our tour of the company included a tour of the facilities and the history of the kibbutz’s communist roots and shared communal ideology, which underwent some changes when the community democratically voted to change the ownership model in 2004 in response to the company’s success.

Post written by: Jonathan Hague

Jonathan Hague: I am currently a second-year law student at UConn Law School. I am interested in International Business Law. I enjoy traveling and experiencing new cultures.

Winter in Israel: Day 4

This is the start of our fourth full day in Israel. The pace is intense. By observing the culture of Jerusalem, the West Wall, and the Dead Sea we are starting to understand the nation and its people. The reoccurring sight of armed police and soldiers started to get routine until we went to the border with Jordan yesterday and witnessed the live mine fields which brought the reality of past despair, suffering, and a feeling of isolation knowing that there were three more borders (Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt) not including the chaos in the Gaza Strip and to a lesser extent the West Bank. The isolation of Israel I equate to the battle of David versus Goliath as little Israel is simply disliked (because of religion) and outnumbered by its numerous neighbors. Well, yesterday we made the trip from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and today we have power-packed meetings with the Weizmann Institute and their tech transfer office, Yeda Research and Development Co., Ltd.

Weizmann Campus

The Weizmann Institute of Science was formed 14 years before the State of Israel came into existence. The Institute is a research facility for biology, biological chemistry, chemistry, physics, mathematics and computer science. There are over 175 staff scientists and students. The founder of the Institute, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, wanted a comfortable American/European style campus where faculty research scientists lived alongside their students to maximize the exchange of ideas and innovation. It is in pursuit of that objective that students attend on full scholarship, live on campus, and receive a small stipend. The mission of the Institute is “curiosity leads Institute scientists to broaden human knowledge, to make new discoveries – for the benefit of humanity.” Scientists are required, first and foremost, to follow their own curiosity. The Institute receives over $100M in grants each year (45% from Europe, 40% from Israel, 10% from U.S., and remaining from others). While the scientists are encouraged to conduct research for research sake, the Institute recognized that their inventions needed to get to market. To accomplish that purpose they soon created the Yeda, the first technology transfer company, to capture and protect the inventions discovered by the Institute and to then find businesses that could market or make use of its technology.

CCEI students outside of Yeda

Income from licensing goes back into the Institute to fund more research with a percentage going directly to the research team. The incentives to invent, patent, and bring products to market has never been greater. To make this happen there is collaboration between inventors, business professionals, and venture capital investors. Although this model takes place in the U.S. in some instances it should be considered for greater replication in depressed areas in an effort to increase company formations and jobs.

Ronen Kreizman, PHD Director of Business Development, YEDA Answering questions from UConn Students


This post written by: Steven Jenkins

Steven R. Jenkins, JD, LL.M, CPA, MBA: I am employed with Manafort Brothers Incorporated as its General Counsel and Compliance Officer. Through the UConn Law School, I am currently completing an LL.M. in Intellectual Property and Environmental law. My overseas studies thus far include England, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, China, and Dubai. This trip to Israel is of interest to me as Israel is a meca for political, theological, and business issues. My goal is to compare Israel to the United States and the other countries I have studied in with a focus on business and intellectual property. (what intellectual property rights & protections exist).

Winter in Israel: Day 3

Our third day in Israel consisted largely of traveling from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, with a few stops and detours along the way.  The day included both visits to common attractions in Israel as well as sojourns to lesser-known areas.

After travelling to the West Bank and driving past the historical site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, we began with a brief excursion at Ein Gedi, a nature reserve in the midst of the desert. Although we did not stay long, we hiked through the reserve, visited a small waterfall with an ancient biblical legend associated with it, and were introduced to some of the local wildlife on the hike.

Landscape of the West Bank

On the way to the Dead Sea, we made a short expedition across the Jordanian border and visited Qasr al-Yahud, a baptism site that is officially considered to be part of Jordan.  While the group crossed the fence demarcating the border between Israel and Jordan, we didn’t need our passports because the area in which Qasr al-Yahud is located is surrounded on all sides by guarded fences or bodies of water. Mutual cooperation between the Israeli and Jordanian governments ensures that it is not possible to cross the river on one side and journey further into Jordan.

A temple at Qasr al-Yahud

The lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea, was the next stop.  Although the high salt concentration of the sea usually allows visitors to float in relaxation, the waters were unusually choppy on the day the group visited.  In keeping with the Israeli reputation for entrepreneurship and innovation, the local community has made use of the chemical properties of the sea and created a thriving cosmetics industry nearby and abroad.

The group experiences swimming in The Dead Sea

Prior to arriving at the sea itself, the group stopped at a local store that has since turned into a multinational company, Ahava, which sells a variety of products containing the minerals found in the sea.  For most group members, though, the natural mud found on the shores of the beach sufficed.  During lunch afterwards, some found time for a camel ride, a frequent attraction throughout the area, as seen in the photo below.

A student riding a camel

While clever irrigation techniques have allowed the landscape of much of Israel to become somewhat temperate, the natural aridness of the surrounding region is on full display in the enormous cliffs and sandy desert of the West Bank. Carved into the rock of one such cliff was the group’s final stop before heading onward to Tel Aviv, St. George’s Monastery, an ancient site inhabited to this day by Orthodox monks. Here, too, the local Bedouins have exhibited an entrepreneurial spirit by setting up a stand at the entrance to a nearby hiking trail to sell local trinkets and sustenance to exhausted tourists.

St. George’s Monastery

This post written by: Jenny Blessing

I am a junior Computer Science major in the School of Engineering minoring in Mathematics, English, and International Studies.  At UConn, I research election technologies at the Center for Voting Technology Research, and this past summer I interned at Google working on a data protection team. I look forward to learning about entrepreneurship and innovation in the dynamic country of Israel and comparing it to my own experiences so far in the United States.

Winter in Israel: Day 2

Conveying the level of exuberance that was felt as I opened my hotel curtains on Friday morning may be a tough task. I fear that this remarkable amount of excitement may not resonate with the readers who do not have the pleasure of being faced with this breathtaking view of Jerusalem. Today marks the weekly holiday of Shabbat, where people come together with their loved ones to celebrate their unconditional bond with each other.


The students visited the Machane Yehuda Market on Friday

After enjoying lunch served up from the hospitable staff at the hotel, our group ventured to a spot that holds vast significance for anyone whose heart allows them to evoke empathic emotion. This stop is known as Yad Vashem, a museum that documents the atrocities of the holocaust.

Because of the immense devastation that came as a result of the Third Reich, the presence of somber sensations upon the onlookers of such an exhibit is expected. However, what was surprising to me was the sadness that came from observing the bleak expressions on the faces of viewers who appeared to be of Israeli descent.

The “Hall of Names” at Yad Vashem Holocaust Center contains short biographies of every Holocaust victim

Having a first hand look at the brutal effect that those unthinkable events had on people whose ancestors were likely a part of it provided me with a perspective that enabled me to consider the occurrence in more realistic terms. In this moment, I was not a privileged American student listening to a teacher lecture on some catastrophic event that took place during World War Two; nor was I an insensitive homebody watching some ‘History Channel’ special for the purpose of entertainment. No, this was not the case. In this moment, I was rubbing shoulders with men and women who knew the heartache of visiting a grave sight that was dug because of the inhumane decisions of Adolf Hitler, and felt the raw pain that comes from envisioning a relationship with grandparents that they were never able to meet. As I stood there with my spirits in a downward spiral, all I could do was hope that the people that I was empathizing with somehow understood that I felt for them dearly.

Rachel Wagner Rosenzweig presenting to students at Made in JLM
The group at Made in JLM


Although I was so deeply touched by the sights at Yad Vashem, I had to seek composure as our group was set to meet with the staff that is responsible with running the well-renowned company, “Made In Jerusalem”. Just as a valuable experience was gained just hours before inside of the museum, the same was achieved inside of these walls. The interesting talk helped add to the foundation of my business acumen, showing me new methods to approach opportunities that can lead to financial growth. I am thankful to have been given the chance of sitting in the same room with individuals of that stature, because I have a firm belief that the strategic tools learned from that meeting will one day help me build something substantial in the arena of wealth.

Although this day was already one that would not soon be forgotten, it would have felt incomplete without getting in on the holiday festivities. Luckily, thanks to a lovely host family, my group was welcomed to a dinner where not only was the food abundant, but also were the compassion and generosity. The singing of faith-laden songs, drinking of domestic wine, and discussing of the nation’s happenings made me feel as if I was a part of their community. I appreciated their willingness to let a stranger into the their home and treat me as if I was one of their own. Because of that, I will always have a special respect for the people of Israel. Although I am aware that one family cannot represent an entire country, the way that I was treated inside that house combined with the genuine feeling that I received from the people on the street gave me enough evidence to maintain a favorable view of this region long after I land back in America.

Post written by:

Jonathan DaCosta

My name is Jonathan DaCosta, a junior majoring in biology and minoring in economics with the plan to matriculate into a physicians assistant program after earning my Bachelors degree. I hope to get a great understanding on what it takes to become an entrepreneur and how these accelerators innovated their company so quickly. I want to be a well-rounded individual in the business field and in the medical field.

Winter in Israel: Day 1

Our first full day in Israel was very busy and full of enlightening experiences.  After only about 24 hours here, I am amazed at the versatility of the country. There is a huge focus on development of the next big technology and the future, yet as we toured Jerusalem, we experienced over 2000 years of history that brings together people of all backgrounds, ages and experiences.

Morning review of the schedule for the day

After enjoying a huge breakfast spread at the hotel, we headed to Jerusalem Venture Partners, one of the first successful venture capital firms to be established in Israel. We met with associate, Julia Kagan, who shared with us the reasons for and results of rapid growth of the venture capital industry in Israel. Growth began with government inputs which jumpstarted investments and contributed hugely to a culture of entrepreneurship. This meeting set the stage nicely for our trip because the themes of Entrepreneurship, Technology and Innovation were started and developed by this government funding. I was most intrigued by Julia’s comments about the lack of women entrepreneurs in Israel. It seems that propelling women forward in business is a global problem that we must solve.

Our next meeting was with Yessum, a tech transfer office. Yissum is a part of the Hebrew University and serves as a bridge between academia and industry. The company helps those in academics to get their ideas to market and also reveals to academics who may not realize that they have a marketable product that they can make money in industry with their findings. Yessum has secured over 10,100 patents, 800+ licenses and 110+ spin-off companies. In our final meeting of the day, we met with the director of the international MBA program at the Hebrew University who provided us with an in-depth overview of entrepreneurship in Israel; what contributed to it, downfalls and benefits.  In all of our conversations today, I noticed that each person discussed the mandatory army involvement as a cause for the entrepreneurship culture and success of Israeli young people. Each leader spoke very highly of their personal experiences in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces).

We had the opportunity to tour the Old City today as well. We visited the famous Western Wall (the only part of the second temple still standing ), the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (where Jesus was sentenced and crucified), walked Via Dolorsa (the road Jesus took to be crucified) and climbed the stairs to the Upper Room (where the last supper took place).  For me, the most beautiful opportunity was seeing so many women praying at the Western Wall. We all prayed indifferent ways, some touched their faces to the wall, some sat praying, some read the Torah and others simply wrote their prayers on papers placed in the wall’s cracks, but I could feel that there was unity and peace.

Thank you for following along as our group from CCEI at UConn visit Israel!  Check back for new daily blog posts from each of the 8 students on the trip.

Post written by:

Elizabeth Turner

I am an undergraduate senior at UConn in the Honors Program, majoring in Business Management and minoring in Communication. I serve as the president of the UConn Voices of Freedom Gospel Choir and love representing the university as a tour guide. I plan to own my own business and am excited to lean about innovation, startups and Israeli culture.