These days there are few opportunities to reach across cultural divides in the Middle East. However, Babson Professor Ted Grossman’s program: “Bridging the Cultural Divide Through Entrepreneurship” provides a rare opportunity for young people from the region to leverage their entrepreneurial spirit to bridge such divides. This year, overcoming considerable roadblocks, Professor Grossman brought together 44 Israeli and Palestinian students to take part in this remarkable program, here in Boston.
In this program, the students learn entrepreneurship and create a business that provides a product or service—and they do it on teams with a mix of Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. When the students return home, the task is not complete. They run that business for four months. Together.
Earlier this week I helped organize an event for the students to introduce them to members of the Boston entrepreneurial community and provide them with a mentoring session on how to build new products.
Not surprisingly, the Palestinians and Israelis shared similar concerns, questions, and career aspirations. Each of them was passionate about making a difference—solving a problem, blazing a trail, and building a successful company. Many had questions about the best career path to take. And they were all eager to learn how to start a company, how to assemble the right team, and how to finance it all.
Jeff Bussgang, General Partner at Flybridge Capital Partners, who originally introduced me to this program, presented at a similar event a couple of weeks ago. At that event, he effectively conveyed to the students that taking the entrepreneurial path is not always a rational choice. Success, Jeff said, is achieved only by those who have deep passion and conviction. Gil Arie (this week’s host at Foley Hoag and a fellow mentor for the program) eloquently conveyed the core elements required to assemble a successful startup team – a shared goal, diverse backgrounds and a strong desire to make it successful, together.
These lessons ring true for both entrepreneurs and for leaders who intend to bridge a cultural divide.
By joining this program, these young people demonstrated courage, leadership, and vision. I have no doubt that there were many future leaders in that room, ready to take on the entrepreneurial and cultural challenges that lie ahead. The seven weeks they spent together forged partnerships that will last for many years beyond this program.
Perhaps the seeds of a great startup were planted right here in Boston. And perhaps the seeds for bridging the cultural divide were planted here as well.
I’d like to thank Gil Arie and Foley Hoag for their generosity in hosting the mentorship event and Samer Haj-Yehia for taking the time to serve as an insightful mentor. In addition, I’d like to commend the participants in a similar event which took place two weeks ago: Jeff Bussgang, General Partner at Flybridge Capital Partners; Lester Fagen, who hosted us at Cooley LLP; Israel Ganot, CEO of Gazelle; and Eyal Shavit from Axcess .The entire program was made possible by the relentless efforts, passion and commitment of Babson student organizer, Noam Maital.