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The Verge Consulting Program: Practical, Experiential & Entrepreneurial

Last summer, I had an excellent opportunity to work with the CT Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI). I was a part of the Verge Consulting team, a program coordinated by CCEI in  collaboration with the SBDC, consisting of six UConn graduate students. As a Verge Consultant or “business consultant”, we worked with SBDC Business Advisors to aid startups and small businesses of the state of Connecticut.

Exposure to startups

One of the primary reasons of my application to Verge Consulting program was the promise of exposure to challenges and business conditions unique to startups. The program certainly delivered on it’s promise. I worked with startups and small business from industries spanning healthcare, medical devices, food, cosmetics, analytics, e-commerce, mobile applications, online education, apparels & technology. I was exposed to a plethora of business factors affecting these industries, which was all brand new information for me learn. Our clients faced multiple challenges some of them unique to their businesses and some were caused by macroeconomic factors. Deciphering their needs and prioritizing them was just the beginning. We carefully curated our services and equipped our clients with required tools, knowledge and advice to face their challenges better.

Entrepreneurial Stories

My favorite part of the program was meeting each entrepreneur. In client meetings we had a chance to meet the founders and executives of the businesses that we worked with. Many times I found myself inspired by their stories because their passion for entrepreneurship was contagious. The challenges, triumphs and mistakes they shared were both thought provoking and contributed to my knowledge and understanding of how to start and sustain a business. The feedback that I received from our clients was also immensely helpful and insightful.

Experiential Learning

Business education was new to me when joining the MBA program and so were many concepts of business. Verge Consulting provided me an opportunity to apply the business concepts that I learned in the classroom to real world business problems. The classroom concepts were a solid foundation to get me started. I learned quickly that there was no predefined way to proceed in a business. We advised our clients and provided them with required tools and knowledge to enhance their capability to face their business challenges to better set them up for growth. For each client and unique challenge they faced, the advice was different.  We had the ability to design analytical dashboards to formulating acquisition, engagement and monetization strategies, all of which were new skills I was able to add to my arsenal.

Excellent Mentors

Our team of consultants worked with and reported to SBDC business advisors. The business advisors are industry veterans who are entrepreneurs themselves. From education at Ivy League universities to years of experience and success stories, their qualifications and subject matter expertise were second to none. They gave us our freedom to learn and enhance the knowledge and skills that was of interest to each of us. Most importantly they tried not to influence our decisions but rather guide us. This paved way for us to define our unique approach to problem solving. This program allowed me to be mentored by the best I could have asked for.

Peer Learning

Our team of business consultants was the cherry on the cake. With our entrepreneurial backgrounds and expertise in various industries and domains we constituted a diverse team. The best element of this team was knowledge sharing. To state a few, I learned market research techniques from Szu-Tung, financial analyses from Keshav, medical device knowledge from Guanwei and search engine optimization from Surya. Our team was dubbed “the dream team”. We were effective presenters who finished each other sentences to a point of scary coordination.  It was combination of our skills and varied areas of interest that allowed us to work with so many different small businesses and startups.  We were each able to contribute to the problems we were solving in a meaningful way, all the while, learning from each other.

Overall, I not only have gained working business knowledge and entrepreneurial skills but also have made friends and mentors for life. If you are looking for a great summer learning experience to work on business problems that would expand your learning and skills, Verge consulting is an excellent program to consider. Learn more about the program through the link below.

https://ccei.uconn.edu/programs/verge/

This post was written by:

Sreeman Kumar Podisetti
MBA, Class of 2018UConn School of Business

 


Winter in Israel: Day 8

Our final day in Tel Aviv was bittersweet, as we knew our incredible journey was coming to an end. We started the day meeting at YL Ventures, a venture capital (VC) firm like many in Israel that focused on early-stage investing. I was astounded that while the US was trending towards less early/seed-stage capital and much more later-stage investments, Israel seemed to embrace their unique VC ecosystem. YL’s Head of Intelligence, Yuval Mond, said it best as I spoke with him walking out of their office. “Because startup companies in Israel focus mostly on the foreign market,” he told me, there must be a system set up that caters to helping these startups get through the countless foreign market hurdles. This allows for a collaborative environment in Israel where companies have to begin bringing their company to the foreign market very early on, where US-based startups have the luxury of often first focusing on their domestic market.

Following our meeting with the intelligent people at YL, our group walked to briefly visit Independence Hall, which was the location of the signing of Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948. As excited as we were to see this important place, our worn-out group was nearly as excited when we saw the Aroma Coffee shop at the corner of the street. Instead of refueling on caffeine at Aroma, we saw our trusty driver pull up across the street, and had to quickly head to our next location.

The group in Independence Hall
Outside of Independence Hall

Our group next visited the Old Jaffa market and port. While some split off and went shopping, many of the students walked around and enjoyed the beautiful views of Tel Aviv, dodging numerous “gifts” from the welcoming pigeons on our way to one of the oldest known ports in the world.

 

Old Jaffa Port

Following the walk, we visited Phoenix Insurance Company, the 3rd largest insurance company in Israel, to check out their investment department and recent InsurTech initiatives. While meeting with many of their c-level executives, our group hopes to establish partnerships and apply what we learned to rebuild the city of Hartford.

The view of Tel Aviv from the conference room at Phoenix Insurance Company

Our final meeting in Israel brought us to The Junction, which is an accelerator program that had launched over 125 companies. We experienced the entrepreneurial spirit first-hand when we celebrated with a team who just finished raising $3M in seed money for their startup. You could feel the excitement and promise in the air from those working at the startup, and I realized that this feeling is often what helps drive some of the world’s most innovative people.

At our final dinner in Israel, we all reflected on everything we learned and saw while in Israel. Many of us had realized that Israel is not the country you hear about in the news. It is a country full of innovation and of people extremely prideful of their nation, of chutzpah and falafel. It is astounding that one of the most important areas in biblical times now serves an equally important role in the global innovation economy today.

I can say for myself that I was very moved by what I learned on the trip. It is an experience that I will remember for a long time. I was sad to leave such a beautiful country, but knew it wouldn’t be the last time I’d be in Israel. “Israel is your second home,” our tour guide had said, and boy did I feel at home there.

Post written by: Nicholas Wehrle

Nicholas Wehrle: I am a 5th semester student double-majoring in economics and psychological sciences, with a minor in business. I am passionate about the “business behind innovation”—the space where entrepreneurs and investors collaborate to grow an idea into a successful company. This past summer I interned in Life Science & Healthcare Venture Banking at Silicon Valley Bank. I am an avid reader of The Economist, and enjoy playing rugby at UConn.


Winter in Israel: Day 7

Today was our second to last day of this trip. Heading out the hotel door at 8:30, we went to our first destination for the day, Caesarea. This is an ancient Roman and Byzantine city that was designed and created by Harrod. In it’s heyday, Caesarea was a majestic city by the sea with massive ports to allow for exchange of goods. While walking around the ruins, it was crazy to imagine what the city looked like at its peak. Our tour guide Yoram told us to take a seat at this one section of the ruins and most of us obliged just to find out that we were sitting in the ruins of the old bathrooms of the amphitheaters built in the city. We also had the opportunity to watch a short historical clip on the past, present, and future of Caesarea. We visited the ruins of an aqueduct that was used to bring water from the Mediterranean into the city. The city was an excellent example of how innovative and cutting edge technology of the time helped society flourish. On our way back to the bus, we encountered an entrepreneur who tried to sell us pieces from his extensive scarf and fur coat collection.

The Roman theatre that Harrod designed for large performances.

 

The group sitting on unexpected toilets.

After our visit to Caesarea, we hopped back on the bus for a relaxing ride along the shoreline to Haifa, the third largest city by population in Israel. Haifa is known as a technology hub, with companies such as Phillips and Microsoft having offices there. We drove up the steep roads until we reached the Ba’hai Garden, an area preserved by the people who practice the religion Ba’hai. We looked down onto the gardens from above and learned about the importance of symmetry and of the numbers 9 and 19. They built these garden up on top of a hill and it is rumored that the hill underneath is actually a bomb shelter that the Ba’hai intend to use if the city of Haifa comes under attack. The city of Haifa as a whole is a very innovate city. It is known as a port city to the state of Israel, as it brings in imports that will later be distributed to the rest of the country. Unfortunately, Haifa is also experiencing increased pollution due to many chemical companies creating plants there.

The group at the beach near the aqueduct. We picked up special shells and skipped stones.

 

The view from the top of the Ba-hai Gardens.

Heading out of the city, we stopped at a rest area to check out the acclaimed Aroma, an Israeli coffee shop renowned for their iced coffee. There also ended being a McDonald’s at the same stop, and a few students decided to grab lunch there to compare and contrast an Israeli McDonald’s to that of an American one (also they just wanted a burger with cheese on it, which usually isn’t allowed because of the typical kosher diet).

Full from lunch, we headed to RAFAEL, the primary missile defense company for Israel. This was a particularly special meeting because we all needed background checks and security clearance, completed in advance, to enter the facility. We learned about the dangers that Israel faced as a nation due to its precarious position in the Middle East. As Yoram likes to say, “Israel’s best neighbor is the Mediterranean Sea”. We also learned more about the Iron Dome, a system that RAFAEL helped put into place to help detect missiles that are targeted toward the country. Learning about the company shed some light on the technology and innovation that Israel brings to the global marketplace. For one, the company has been very innovative in designing its missiles. In building one of their rockets, they ended up using the connectors from the Buzz Lightyear and Woody toys from Toy Story to help bring the cost down $4,000, without sacrificing the effectiveness of the missile. RAFAEL is also very collaborative with related companies in the United States such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing by partnering with them to bring technology to the US military. This global partnership and collaboration helps them become a leader in the field. The success of this company and the innovation of their technology is very much driven by their desire to make Israel the best it can be, a foundation that has also helped it become a “start-up” nation.

Our busy day concluded with a visit to a local winery called Jezreel, which specializes in producing Israeli wine. The winery is very young, founded in 2012. It arose due to the founder’s need for wine that fits the Israeli people’s cuisine, climate, and personality. Like many other Israeli companies, this one found a niche in society and capitalized on it. We had the opportunity to learn about the wine making process and ended our tour there with a wine tasting.

We had an extremely busy and productive day. From visiting traditional tourist locations such as Caesarea and the Ba’hai gardens to visiting RAFAEL, a place that most Israelis will never visit in their lifetimes, and a start-up Israeli vineyard, we learned more about Israeli culture and the entrepreneurial spirit that has helped them become such a successful nation in less than 75 years.

Post written by: Amisha Dave

Amisha Dave: I am a senior biomedical engineering major in the Honors Program and plan on attending medical school next year. I am pursing minors in computer science, information technology, and bioinfomatics and through taking classes for minors, I have found myself getting more and more interested in both healthcare technology and startups. In addition, I have been looking study abroad for the last three years and found this to be the perfect opportunity to visit a unique country that integrates many of my interests. I can’t wait to exploring both the historical and entrepreneurial culture of Israel and start off 2018 there!


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: Waiting for Students to Arrive

CCEI Managing Director Michelle Cote visiting Jaffa as she prepares for students to arrive to Israel.

This morning, CCEI’s 8 Winter in Israel students arrived in Tel Aviv to be welcomed by CCEI Managing Director Michelle Cote and adjunct professor and Partner at Hinckley Allen, Daniel Gottfried. These students will spend the next 10 days traveling through Israel and learning from leaders in technology, business, visiting government offices, large high tech enterprises, venture capital investors, technology accelerators, and academic institutions. In addition our students will be visiting some of Israel’s cultural and historic sites, from the old city of Jerusalem to the Dead Sea.

Students and faculty directors stop to appreciate the view over Jerusalem on their first day in Israel

Beginning on Friday, each of our 8 students will be recounting one day of the program through this blog – telling us about the places they’ve visited, what they’ve learned, and their experience so far being immersed in the entrepreneurial culture of Israel. We can’t wait to hear from our students and see their photos over the course of the trip!