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TAMID at Hebrew University: Learning and Adapting to the Jerusalem Market

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A couple of weeks ago, “Made in JLM” – a Jerusalem-based “umbrella” organization for the city’s entrepreneurs – mapped over 500 startups currently active in Jerusalem. Less than a month ago, Boston-based accelerator MassChallenge chose Jerusalem as the location for their third program launching, and just last year the city was ranked as one of the world’s top 50 startup cities by Startup Compass. While it isn’t surprising that most people who don’t live in this area are oblivious to this (despite the endless media coverage), astoundingly very few of the people residing in Jerusalem are aware, too.

 

The first-ever Israeli chapter of TAMID was launched just over two years ago at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In its first year, our chapter looked exactly like any other American chapter: we had an investment fund, a consulting group, and an Education semester that all new members were required to complete before graduating to either Investment or Consulting.

 

Our first hint that something was fundamentally different between Israel and the U.S. was after dropping the Investment Fund by our second year, understanding that it lacked relevancy here. We continued to work only as a consulting group and focused our operations exclusively within Jerusalem. This was in attempt to show our eager students all of the opportunities within the city.

 

Even though we received unbelievably warm feedback from the startups we worked with in those two years, something still wasn’t quite right. As the chapter finalized its second year of operations, and its three notorious founding fathers graduated and handed the reins on to me, I felt clueless about the chapter’s future. While in the US, TAMID is one of the most well-known and highly-esteemed student groups, there is still close to no knowledge of it in Israel – let alone Jerusalem. In fact, being president of the only chapter in Israel feels very much like being the co-founder of the entire organization, and requires unrelenting faith in yourself and in the group’s activities. I began recruiting several more board members, and was unbelievably lucky to have met Ella Efrat, our current Vice President. Her immediate enthusiasm and conviction to the organization is, to this day, my personal reassurance of the necessity of the program’s mere existence.

 

But despite exceedingly high hopes and motivation for improving the program, we were nevertheless stumped as to why countless students still felt disconnected from the practical world outside academia, with the Jerusalem tech scene rapidly expanding at their fingertips. We began questioning the fundamental aspects of the program, and ended up bluntly deciding that the market was quite simply different.

 

Most TAMID students usually work on at least one market research project as part of the consulting program. We felt like co-founders of our own startup – researching, analyzing, and mapping our potential market. As students ourselves, we experienced the pain sensed by the student body of Jerusalem, to whom joining the startup world couldn’t feel any more far-flung and unattainable. We analyzed TAMID’s mission, compared it with our own, and all the while kept our eyes on the surrounding market (students and startups) before coming to a decision. TAMID members probably know “The Lean Startup” by heart and back-to-front – we received an all-too-pragmatic lesson, and essentially pivoted our product.

 

Internships aren’t very commonplace in Israel, to put it lightly. This is mainly due to the legal ban on unpaid work, which as a result diminished the possibility of paid internships just as well. The lack of such an option here is one of the main reasons students felt displaced, even though most of them were very clearly qualified to (at the very least) be accepted for part-time work. We decided to change the format of our projects: rather than groups of students working on consulting projects from home, we felt that the program’s members should work in smaller teams from within the host companies’ local offices. We changed the format of the education program as well, deciding that it was important for us that the students acquire their knowledge continuously, during the projects themselves; this would also allow them to make a better connection with the entire chapter throughout the academic year, rather than with just their own consulting group for a set period of time. It’s easy to write about this now, wrapping up months of work into a single paragraph, but each one of these decisions was painstakingly made after endless conversations and careful examination of every detail.

 

We prefer to call this year’s program a pilot, but the immediate enthusiasm we received from our organizational environment was impossible to miss. The number of applicants for the program shot up, and we even received several requests from students of other academic institutions. Our recruits will begin their projects this week, and our companies are awaiting them eagerly. We have also been contacted by a local organization seeking to co-operate with us and help us implement the program, despite the legal obstacles. While we still have the entire program ahead of us, we have felt the difficulties of implementing a fundamental organizational change and won’t look back for a second, confident that we’re heading the right direction.

 

By: Bar Bartal