Israel may be known as “start-up nation,” but apparently there’s room in the country for a Canadian idea that helps innovative companies get off the ground.
Earlier this summer, the Toronto-based York Entrepreneurship Development Institution (YEDI) held an intensive two-week “acceleration program” for 15 cutting-edge student businesses, on the campus of Israel’s Ariel University.
YEDI, ranked by UBI Global, a business incubator consultant, as the No. 3 university-linked accelerator in North America, held sessions in entrepreneurial vision, business modelling, market testing and other topics that are key to helping young companies succeed, said Marat Ressin, founder and president of YEDI.
Ressin, who delivered some of the lectures himself, said the business ideas offered by the Israeli participants were impressive. At least three have the potential for serious commercial application.
One of the ideas, of interest to medical insurers, features a fetal heart monitor worn by a pregnant woman. The monitor allows the mother to hear, track and
collect data about her baby’s heartbeat and provide the record to medical specialists. The insurers like the idea, because instead of visiting their doctor or hospital on a hunch, moms will instead have accurate data to rely on, he said.
Another idea, which interests the Israeli military, features a medical stretcher that can be used by two stretcher-bearers without utilizing their hands. This permits them to carry equipment or arms while evacuating the wounded, Ressin said.
A third was a bracelet worn by swimmers that would monitor things such as depth in the water and transmit results to a lifeguard on duty at a pool.
Ressin said about 50 investors attended a “venture fair” at the conclusion of the two-week program, including the chief science officer for Israel’s Ministry of Science.
“I think we are very lucky to get your experience, expertise and knowledge,” said chief scientist Alexander Bligh, addressing the venture fair. “We as Israelis benefit a lot from it.”
“We see the importance of the cooperation of this operation, not only the exchange of ideas and developing start-ups together, but as a joint effort to achieve a dream,” said Yigal Cohen-Orgad, chancellor of Ariel University. “Two weeks, I hope, is a starting point for a larger joint operation.”
Ressin said YEDI had already run programs in Chile, Russia and Hong Kong, before making its debut in Israel.
He was particularly satisfied with the program’s reception in Ariel.
“For me, it was a special feeling. We’re working with Jewish kids. The spirit was really nice,” Ressin said.
He was particularly impressed with Ariel University, describing it is a beautiful new West Bank campus, close to biblical sites, which serves an academic community of 20,000, including 700 Arabs. He would like to see the Canadian government sponsor an international student centre at the university to help bring together students of different backgrounds.
YEDI was created three years ago to help provide would-be entrepreneurs with the business acumen necessary to make their ideas financially viable. It includes an educational component – developed in conjunction with the Schulich Executive Education Centre (SEEC) – as well as a mentorship element. At the end of the day, participants get the opportunity to pitch their products to a panel of investors.
Ressin said some 150 businesses, including not-for-profits, have gone through the YEDI program since it was launched. It has proven so popular that the office regularly receives 250 applications for programs that can handle only 15 students.
Ressin expects the number of applicants for future programs to soar, as YEDI has received a federal government grant of $2 million. Now, in addition to certificates attesting to their completion of the program, graduates can expect a $30,000 grant to help get their businesses off the ground, Ressin said.