There is little that compares to experiencing things first hand, particularly when that exposure offers a window into a whole new level of possibility. Such opportunities often expand our horizons and shatter the limitations of our previously moderate expectations. In the world of entrepreneurship there is a small country with a big reputation and few who experience it first-hand are left unchanged.
The entrepreneurial magic of the nation of Israel was brought to the forefront a few years ago with the publication of the book, Start-Up Nation. It essentially tried to answer the question how such a young country of only 7.1 million people, surrounded by enemies and with no natural resources has been able to produce more start-up companies than countries like China and the UK.
Well now these is an opportunity for young South African entrepreneurs to find out for themselves by applying for a funded opportunity to participate in the first 2015 Young Entrepreneurs Trip to Israel & Palestine. Applications close on 30 January. The link to the online application can be found here. (There will also be other trips later in the year)
One of our Allan Gray Fellows, Douglas Hoernle, was fortunate to participate in the pilot trip late last year. He had the following reflection on the opportunity:
“After personally experiencing the level of innovation and economic activity in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, I am in a position to dream bigger than I previously thought possible. The experience has helped me grow my personal and business dreams and I have no doubt it will help take my business to a much higher level.”
For more detail on the nature and activities of the trip, (including a final dinner with the Start-Up Nation author) host Dan Brotman provides an overview:
An extract from the 2014 “Young Trep” trip by Dan Brotman | Oct 22, 2014
Recognising the need to foster a stronger culture of entrepreneurship in South Africa, Investec and the South Africa-Israel Forum (SAIF) partnered to take a first-ever delegation of 20 young entrepreneurs to Israel late last year.
The purpose of the pilot trip was to expose South African job creators under the age of 35 to best practices in business and entrepreneurship in arguably the world’s most entrepreneurial country, Israel.
Those selected were diverse both in terms of backgrounds and industries, and are directly responsible for the creation of over 300 jobs through their businesses. One such participant is Modjadji Ramphadi, 32, from Johannesburg, who grew up in rural Limpopo and was unable to finish her studies due to lack of funds. She eventually resigned from her job as a receptionist and became an entrepreneur, starting her own cleaning company and beauty care line, which together employ 132 rural women today.
Doug Hoernle, 24, from Cape Town, is the founder of Rethink Education, which has developed chat-style online platforms to aid in the teaching of core maths and science. To date, Rethink Education has distributed maths and science content to over 400 000 South African high school learners, and Hoernle’s company recently received the 2014 African Content Award for the Best Mobile Education Content in Africa.
Other participants included South Africa’s first black female chocolatier, a young female farmer from the Free State and the owner of a chain of youth travel hostels.
One of the highlights of the trip was the opportunity to engage with two of Israel’s highest-profile former South African businesspeople, Morris Kahn and Maxine Fassberg.
Kahn, 84, met Aliyah from Benoni in 1956 without a university degree or formal business training. He went on to found the Aurec Group, which produced the Yellow Pages directory that eventually paved the way for Israeli software giant Amdocs, which now has more than 20 000 employees worldwide and customers in over 50 countries.
The media-shy philanthropist volunteered to share his life story publically for the first time, as he believed that young “born-free” South African entrepreneurs would benefit most from hearing about what he has learned about entrepreneurship during his lifetime.
Kahn became visibly emotional when he explained how moving it was to see South African entrepreneurs of all colours sitting around the dinner table and collaborating on new business ideas.
“A gathering like this would have been illegal when I last lived in South Africa,” he said.
South African-born Intel Israel Vice-President Maxine Fassberg is arguably one of Israel’s highest ranking businesswomen, and was selected as one of 14 women to light torches at this year’s Israel Independence Day ceremony.
Fassberg engaged with the group on issues ranging from women in business to affirmative action. When asked whether businesswomen needed to choose between having a family or career, she pulled out a photograph of her grandson and beamed: “Look at me, I have both! You should never have to choose between the two.”
Participant Phakiso Tsotetsi is the founder of The Hook Up Dinner, a growing initiative that gives start-ups from across South Africa a platform from which to connect, engage and contribute to each others’ success, while also providing entrepreneurs with a valuable interface to corporate South Africa.
The group also visited Ramallah, where they met Bashar Masri, a Palestinian-American entrepreneur and founder of Rawabi, the first planned Palestinian city in the West Bank. They also met with young Palestinian entrepreneurs and discussed the challenges of doing business in the West Bank.
The group shared the South African experience of reconciliation with their Palestinian counterparts and explained that, although their country underwent a peaceful transition in 1994, there was still much work to be done until South Africa had truly become the “Rainbow Nation”.
The closing dinner with “Start Up Nation” author Saul Singer, gave the group time to reflect on the intense week they had experienced.