Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I Become a Virtual VC at Ben Gurion University

Per-capita venture-capital investment in Israel runs 2.5 times that in the U.S. and 30 times that in Europe. Tiny Israel—population 7.1 million —attracts as much venture capital as Britain (population 61 million), and France and Germany combined (combined population 145 million). -- some facts from "Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle"


Sunday a week ago, January 17, I went to the Ben Gurion University campus in Be'er Sheva to become a virtual venture capitalist. My friend Alex Bronstein teaches a class in the computer science department there called "Entrepreneurial Computer Science". This class teaches CS students how to bring a product from conception to market while raising venture capital. It teaches them the basics of crafting a business plan, estimating the size of a market, developing a budget, and creating presentations to raise capital from venture capitalists or angel investors. As far as I know this is the only class of its kind given anywhere on entrepreneurship in a computer science department. This class is very popular and very successful. Last year Alex won the best teaching award at BGU for this class.

Prof. Alex Bronstein in front of the computer science building at Ben Gurion University of the Negev

The final exam consists of presentations the students make to a panel of professors and venture capitalists on their businesses in a mock fund-raising environment. The presentations were all first rate this year. Although the businesses ranged all the way from point product devices to complex enterprise solutions for managing auto traffic, they were one and all very professional and well done. There wasn't a single one that I would have dismissed out of hand as poorly thought out, which is a testament to how well Alex teaches the class and how much his students learn from it.

View of the Ben Gurion University of the Negev campus from the computer science department

The class presentations were held in a beautiful auditorium in the computer science department  that had been donated by Harry and Carol Saal, friends of ours from our days in Palo Alto. So, it was doubly gratifying to  educate the next generation of Israeli entrepreneurs with my friend Alex from Palo Alto in a space built by Jewish Silicon Valley ingenuity.

Ira and Pam in front of the Harry and Carol Saal Auditorium at Ben Gurion University

After three hours of presentations I was pretty hungry so Alex took me to my favorite place: The McDonald's on campus! Here I learned an important lesson.  Just because a McDonald's doesn't say "kosher" on the outside, doesn't mean it isn't kosher. Some Mcdonald's, like this one on campus, are under local rabbinic supervision, while not listed as an "officially" kosher McDonalds.

The "unofficially" kosher McDonald's on the Ben Gurion University campus

Once inside I saw the kosher certificate Alex told me about and immediately ordered a Big Mac. It was yum!

The certificate of kashrut inside the BGU McDonald's

After I finished my Big Mac we rushed off to the Chabad on campus to make the 4:00 PM time for davening Mincha. It is amazing how the feeling in Chabad shuls everywhere is the sme. I could have been anywhere in the world, but there I was on the campus of Ben Gurion University in Israel.

The Chabad shul on the campus of Ben Gurion University

After davening Alex and I went our separate ways. I hope I will be able to participate in more such programs on the BGU campus in the future.

The Gates of Peace never open on the Ben Gurion University campus because Israel's neighbors don't want them to.

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