U-M Investment Group TAMID Introduces Students to Entrepreneurship, Israeli Startups

11/18/10

[Corrected, 4:40pm. See below] Last month, Jon Medved, the founder of Jerusalem-based Israel Seed Partners, a multi-million dollar venture capital fund, came to the University of Michigan to give a lecture on high-tech development. But Medved wasn’t there to talk about Silicon Valley or another U.S. startup hub. Instead he was meeting with a group of students to discuss the future of Israel’s high-tech economy.

Medved’s visit to Michigan was made possible by TAMID Israel Investment Group, an organization founded three years ago by two U-M students. The goal of the group, which has already expanded to a handful of campuses across the U.S., is to give business-minded students a way to connect to the Israeli economy, according to TAMID’s executive director Brett Siegal, a senior in Michigan’s business school. [An earlier version of this story reported that Medved had visited UC Berkeley, not Michigan. We regret the error---Eds.]

Though there are hundreds of campus organizations that connect Jewish students to Israel through cultural or academic activities, Siegal says that before TAMID (which translates to “always” in Hebrew), there was no outlet for students to make connections in a more business-oriented way.

And through a three-phase program, the group’s members get to do just that. The students get a crash course in important business concepts, and the chance to invest the group’s fund of Israeli securities or to do consulting work for a variety of Israeli companies. In addition, TAMID sends the students to Israel—and pays many of their expenses—for internships with Israeli companies or multi-national corporations with offices in the country.

Though the group works with companies ranging from a startup focused on solar housing to big firms like Thomson Reuters, Siegal says the nature of the Israeli economy means that much of TAMID’s work is focused on startups and the high-tech sector. “It’s about a 30-year-old economy, essentially, as a developed economy,” Siegal says. “The economy, for a number of different reasons, sort of spawns a lot of startups.”

According to Siegal, the Israeli government sponsors about 20 startup incubators and also participates in institutionalized venture capital programs that match private investments.

Though Israeli government involvement plays a large role in the proliferation of startups in the country, Siegal says the nature of Israeli culture also helps to foster self-starters. Compulsory military service “creates these very self-motivated people,” Siegal says. In addition, many of the immigrants that came to the country in large waves from the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s were scientists in their home countries, and the Israeli government attempted to help these immigrants commercialize their ideas.

It’s for all of these reasons that Israel “has the highest level of startups outside of Silicon Valley,” according to Siegal. In addition, the country is home to between 3,000 and 4,000 high-tech companies, depending on whom you ask. And items like Intel’s Pentium chip and ICQ—the technology that ultimately turned into AOL Instant Messenger—were originally developed in Israel.

According to Nathan Gilson, the vice president in charge of TAMID’s fellowship program and a sophomore at U-M, the program gives students an introduction to the innovation-heavy environment that proliferates in the country, which is about the same size as New Jersey. Members are able to take what they learn from this intense environment and apply it to their studies and experience in the U.S. “There’s such a startup culture in Israel, and going there and being involved in their business world, you can’t help but feel it,” Gilson says.

Gilson, who spent last summer in Jerusalem interning for a solar housing company called Real Housing, said he was able to connect with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists across the country during his time there. He even got the chance to showcase TAMID in a presentation to TechAviv, an organization of Israeli high-tech founders and investors.

“The response was astoundingly positive,” Gilson says, adding that after the trip he was able to count many of TechAviv’s members among TAMID’s “network of both startup companies and investors in Israel.”

In addition to hobnobbing with big players in the Israeli startup scene, Gilson says participating in TAMID gave him the chance to have an immediate impact on an Israeli startup. During the second phase of the program, Gilson did some consulting work for IceCure Medical, a Caesarea-based startup that makes a medical device for treating benign breast tumors through a non-invasive procedure. “As a small company without that many resources, they didn’t know what it meant to sell in the American marketplace,” Gilson says. “We kind of filled that void for them. They were so appreciative of our work.”

Indeed, the startup companies not only learn from the students, but the group’s members also learn about how to run an organization from their work with the companies, according to Allison Berman, the group’s vice president for programming. What’s more, it’s relatively easy for the group’s members to relate to Israeli startups because of the “dynamic” nature of TAMID, says Berman, a sophomore in Michigan’s business school.

“It’s such a new group that I can have a very formative role in how the group ends up running,” she says. “It’s kind of like beginning on a startup venture.”

Jillian Berman is an intern for Xconomy Detroit. Follow @

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