Inaugural Israel TigerTrek Introduces Princeton to the Start Up Nation

Friday, Feb 28, 2020
by Daniella Cohen '22 and Ron Miasnik '22

Over Intersession break, a group of 20 Princetonians traveled to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on the inaugural Israel TigerTrek. The TigerTrek trips, founded eight years ago by the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, are now hallmark experiences at Princeton that show students the entrepreneurial ecosystems of Silicon Valley and New York. Founded by Ron Miasnik '22 and Daniella Cohen '22, Israel TigerTrek is the first international TigerTrek, taking students to one of the prominent tech scenes outside of the United States. Princeton students can learn a lot from the Israeli entrepreneurship ecosystem: Israel has the highest number of startups per capita and highest amount of venture capital investment per capita of any country in the world. Additionally, Israel has the third highest number of public companies listed on NASDAQ (only after the U.S. and China). For a country of around nine million people, their status as an international tech powerhouse is remarkable.

The group consisted of sixteen Princeton undergrads selected for their entrepreneurial energy, Princeton Trustee Ann Kirschner *78, Princeton's Center for Jewish Life Associate Director Marni Blitz, and us. We spent a week in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem meeting with the country’s top founders, executives, and investors. The group not only examined Israel's technological and business trends, but also learned how the country's history, politics, culture, and religion contribute to its status as a leader in tech. In a series of tech talks and off-the-record Q&As, participants heard firsthand from Shai Wininger (Co-Founder of Lemonade and Fiverr), Yossi Vardi (the "Godfather" of Israeli High-Tech), Hilla Ovil-Brenner (Managing Director of Techstars Tel Aviv), Michael Eisenberg (Aleph VC), and more. The conversations spanned the professional and personal: from debates about AI and bioethics to emotional discussions on being a parent-founder, the role of religion in business, and how culture is created and maintained within a company.

One of the trip’s central themes was: what makes the Israeli ecosystem unique? The group met with Team8, a company-building platform focused on supporting military veterans, giving the group a window into how elite technological intelligence units feed into the startup ecosystem. Meetings with the CEO’s of non-profits (Appleseeds and PresenTense) exposed inequities within Israeli society and challenges that minority groups face in Israeli tech. The group’s final speaker was Aharon Aharon, the head of the Israeli Innovation Authority, a government agency that directly supports the Israeli startup ecosystem by investing in founders, a mechanism unique to Israel.

Israel TigerTrek participants

The Israel TigerTrek group, with CJL Associate Director Marni Blitz (back row, fifth from left) and Trustee Ann Kirschner *78 (center, middle row). Israel TigerTrek was co-founded by Daniella Cohen '22 (front row, pink blazer) and Ron Miasnik '22 (back row, third from right). (Photo via Daniella Cohen and Ron Miasnik)

Equally important to understanding Israel (and having fun there!) was seeing the country’s culture and history firsthand. Spending a day touring Jerusalem -- visiting the Old City, the Western Wall, and the Holocaust Memorial -- provided important historical context. The visits illuminated the nation’s collective post-Holocaust trauma and the rich history of the land, shining a new light on the entrepreneurial meetings. Exploring the markets in Tel Aviv exposed the group to the culture of "Chutzpah" firsthand (and gave a new meaning to authentic hummus!) The group also had the chance to visit three Israeli homes (and enjoy three home-cooked dinners): an intimate dinner at Ron’s grandparents home, an inspiring dinner with female entrepreneurs at entrepreneur Idit Harel’s home, and a delicious Shabbat family dinner at Michael Eisenberg’s home.

Israel TigerTrek was meaningful and engaging for all who participated, and will continue as a landmark program in years to come. We are most proud of the community that’s been built: the sixteen passionate and entrepreneurial-minded students will, no doubt, use this experience to leave their mark on the world. The trip was supported by Princeton Entrepreneurship Council, the Center for Jewish Life, the Keller Center, and other generous departments and alumni. 

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