Participants at the Accelerating Michigan Israel Business Innovations conference at Michigan State University

Francis observes the importance of moving this partnership forward.

Featured photo by Michigan State University/Michigan-Israel Business Accelerator

As an undergraduate student, I was invited to attend the Accelerating Michigan-Israel Business Innovations conference at Michigan State University last November. The one-day event brought together entrepreneurs, business, government and education leaders from Israel and Michigan to build innovation and economic development opportunities for both.
Being a David Project intern at MSU Hillel has strengthened my desire to foster business relations between Michigan and Israel as part of my future professional career, so I was eager to listen to the speakers from the organizations represented.

The conference was hosted by the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) and the Michigan Israel Business Accelerator (MIBA), with sponsorship from MSU’s Broad College of Business, the Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

Scott Hiipakka, CEO of the MIBA, talked about how creating relations between Israel and Michigan will position Michigan as one of the premier partners for Israel’s innovation in the United States.

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor discussed his excitement about a Michigan-Israel partnership as part of a panel with Michigan-Israeli industry experts. Schor said Lansing’s workforce and infrastructure are ready to make the ideas of Israel’s innovators and entrepreneurs a reality.

It was great to hear support from Dean Sanjay Gupta of the Eli Broad College of Business about the university furthering its research collaboration between MSU and Israeli scholars, innovators and businesses. He also emphasized the benefits of connecting students with the entrepreneurship mindset present in Israel.

For example, Serling Visiting Scholar Dr. Harry Yuklea has taught courses about entrepreneurship and the Israeli startup experience for two years in the College of Business. The college will also begin its first study abroad to Israel focusing on innovation and entrepreneurship in Israel over spring break this March.

The study abroad will be led by Dr. Ayalla Ruvio, business professor and Serling Institute affiliate. I will be her teaching assistant. Twenty-three students will meet with Israeli companies with offices in Michigan, American companies with offices in Israel and startup companies based in Israel. All students received a Levy study abroad scholarship through the Serling Institute.

Attending the conference aligned with my personal goals.

Throughout my childhood, I heard of Israel’s innovative and entrepreneurial environment. Because Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and one of the United States’ closest allies, I was taught the importance of a strong relationship between Israel and the United States.

I strengthened my knowledge of Israel academically and in my extra-curriculars. I minored in Jewish studies and, through the Serling Institute, I participated in study abroad at the Hebrew University, took Hebrew for four semesters and then an ulpan (intensive Hebrew course) in Israel. I also interned in Israel at Bar-Ilan University’s Faculty of Law as a research assistant, and I spent two summers in Israel with support from the Institute’s Levy and Hersch scholarships.

I am a strong advocate for education about Israel in my extra-curriculars at MSU. I am involved with MSU’s Hillel and Chabad Student Center. As a David Project intern, I fostered relationships between Jewish and non-Jewish groups wishing to learn more about Israel. My passion for engaging people on Israel has pushed me to continue advocating for strengthening economic relationships between Israel and the United States.

By beginning to create connections for MSU students to see Israel in the context of business and establishing a way to make strong relationships between Michigan and Israel, I believe our partnership and future in innovation and entrepreneurship has never looked so bright.@

Benjamin Francis of Farmington Hills is a junior at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

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