HEC and Israeli college launch virtual business incubator

HEC and Israeli college launch virtual business incubator

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Israeli entrepreneurship professor Dafna Kariv meets with her HEC colleague, Luis Cisneros. JANICE ARNOLD PHOTO

Aspiring entrepreneurs in Quebec and Israel, and those who teach them, are not allowing distance to prevent them from collaborating and learning from each other.

“IQBator,” a virtual business incubator, is being developed by HEC Montréal and the College of Management Academic Studies (COMAS) in Rishon Letzion, near Tel Aviv.

The project further cements the relationship begun in 2014 between HEC, the prestigious business school associated with the Université de Montréal, and COMAS, a college with 12,000 students that grants bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

For the third consecutive year, this past June an HEC delegation, consisting of 13 students and 10 professors, spent two weeks in Israel to experience entrepreneurship in “the startup nation,” meeting business and government representatives.

Their preparation begins a week earlier when they meet Quebec businesspeople, including those from the Jewish community.

IQBator, whose first two letters stand for Israel and Quebec, is an online support program that will allow students on both continents to simultaneously learn how to turn their ideas into businesses.

The pilot project will begin early next year and be overseen by Israeli and Canadian professors. The two schools would like to also have the input of business leaders in both locations.

IQBator will serve as a platform for the creation of more joint activities between students and between faculty. An expansion of actual visits to Israel is also envisioned.

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“We believe that our entrepreneurs will be inspired by the ‘startup nation’ culture of Israel and also by the strong ‘born global’ mindset of its entrepreneurs, which makes the Israeli ecosystem very unique in the world,” said Collette Vanasse, director of business development at HEC’s Institut d’entrepreneuriat Banque Nationale. Typically, Israeli startups from their inception look outside the country for partners, and have their sights on the export market.

To understand why Israel is such a haven for early-stage businesses, HEC students are first introduced to the Israeli personality. Entrepreneurship professor Luis Cisneros starts by trying to explain “chutzpah.”

Before the group’s departure in June, Israeli Consul General Ziv Nevo Kulman warned them to be prepared for the brusque character that has enabled a small, besieged country to become an economic miracle.

Two Hebrew words encapsulate what Israelis are about, he said: tachlis, which reflects an impatience to get to the point, and doogri, which defines the directness or frankness of Israeli discourse.

This proved to be good advice for Christophe Grimard, a second-year business administration student.

He termed Israel an “awesome experience,” but a culture shock. He went because he had heard about the thriving entrepreneurial climate in Israel, but not much else.

“When Israelis have an idea they think is good, they don’t ask questions, they just try it. They are not afraid of failure.

“In Montreal, I would not say we are chicken, but we are more pragmatic.”

Although it took some getting used to it, he came to appreciate Israelis’ bluntness. “They go straight to the point. If they think you have a bad idea, they tell you… It was a shock at first, but in the end it was helpful.”

HEC’s connection to COMAS grew out of a research relationship that began about 15 years ago between Louis-Jacques Filion, a professor of entrepreneurship and innovation, and COMAS entrepreneurship professor Dafna Kariv, now chair of its Novus Centre for Entrepreneurship.

HEC was one of the few universities that had a department of entrepreneurship, Filion said, and even had its own accelerator for early-stage companies.

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Their mutual respect grew, and Kariv, who speaks French fluently, since that time has lectured each year at HEC. She refers to Filion as her mentor.

HEC has had overseas programs for years, in the European Union, Mexico and South Africa, among other destinations, for undergraduate and master’s students and worth three credits.

Filion and Kariv proposed adding Israel.

Though based in Tel Aviv, the Quebecers also spend time in Jerusalem and southern Israel, visiting popular tourist sites.

Kariv says the Quebec students know management in a theoretical sense, but are more risk-averse than their Israeli counterparts.

“Yes, we have chutzpah. We are a bit impolite,” she said. “The HEC students follow the rules. They ask, ‘Professor, what should I do?’ I tell them, ‘I don’t know. Where do you want to go?’”

The HEC students are impressive in their ability to identify a need and imagine a solution. They work on a startup project while in Israel, which they pitch at the end of the trip. Kariv said these have been “really, really good.”

Robert Presser, a 1987 HEC graduate and a board member of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Quebec, believes the benefit of this co-operation is twofold.

“It shows Quebec students who may not yet have had a chance to form a world view of one of the most innovative countries in the world, despite a lot of constraints,” he said.

“Second, it is promoting rapprochement. The students come back with a better understanding of Israel’s place in the world and the Jewish entrepreneurial spirit.”