How to Reach Ivy League Levels of Tech Innovation">How to Reach Ivy League Levels of Tech Innovation
By Oren Toledano, co-founder and CEO of Israel Tech Challenge
We’re called the “startup nation.”
Despite being smaller than the state of New Jersey, Israel has more Nasdaq-listed companies than any other country in the world except the U.S. and China. Our businesses are quick to grow and to create. They are built on a mentality eager to take risks.
But, what is the secret sauce behind Israel’s success? What magic touch do we have that universities around the world are now acknowledging is highly effective and desirable?
This is a question others have asked before – most notably Dan Senor and Saul Singer in their best-selling book. One answer they give: it starts in the military. More specifically, in the unique training program for the young recruits of 8200, Israel’s elite military unit where thousands of bright, technically minded soldiers study deeply and master cutting-edge technology. Having served in that unit, reaching the rank of Major, I’d like to go into this a bit more.
Over the last three years alone, several start-ups founded by 8200 graduates were purchased by tech giants, including Adallom (purchased by Microsoft), Onavo (purchased by Facebook), and CyActive (purchased by PayPal).
In 8200, the idea of “being thrown into the deep end” is taken to a completely new level. The soldiers are expected to learn new skills super-fast and solve complex military problems with limited personnel, in a short time and with surprisingly little guidance. It is a quick, hands-on, intense learning process that leads straight to success.
During their training, the average day begins at 6 a.m., soldiers get exactly five minutes in the morning to wake up and dress themselves – and they get another 10 minutes, on the clock, for breakfast. The rest of their day is just as intense, as well as intellectually challenging and rigorously scheduled – an exhaustingly high-level program of study that generally continues at full force until 11 each night.
If you can keep up with the demands of this program for its full five months, you come out on the other end as a tech master at the age of 18, and with more technical know-how than an average American college graduate with a degree in Computer Science.
And it works particularly well. The unit’s alumni come away with the skills and mentality that are a natural fit for the start-up ecosystem.
The thinking and training of 8200 can be applied anywhere around the globe.
At Israel Tech Challenge, for example, we teach an international group of students about cybersecurity and data science. Working in closed cohort groups, with intensive training and close mentorship, and given the keys to a strong professional network, the students flourish. The method we use creates open-minded, autodidactic, independent thinkers who can even come up with solutions before the definition or emergence of the actual problem.
It is an approach that can help all of us, as an international community, react quickly, adapt to the needs of the market, and create in-demand applications.
Today, American universities have started to recognize the need for educational models spearheaded by 8200-like tech boot camps and crash courses in coding. However, this is just a single application of the kind of new thinking brought to the forefront by the 8200. Israel’s experience can and should be leveraged to jumpstart not only the adoption of a new pedagogical system, but also as a groundbreaking model of international problem solving.
By adopting 8200’s intense, focused, and uncompromising training methods, American companies and organizations can create a workforce that is better prepared, more disciplined, and capable of overcoming technological gaps quickly, adapting in an agile fashion to changing realities, and learning, without judgment, but with great depth, from past mistakes. And they could do this faster, with fewer resources, attracting only the most talented and challenge-ready employees.
Applied effectively, the potential is here for a powerful tool that can shift the way we approach some of the larger issues facing the international community, throwing the most motivated, mentally resilient, and brightest human resources at the problem, while making better use of other resources, like money and time. In other words, we could attack real world problems by engaging technology, and its best practitioners, to help solve national priority issues.
Not only could this model prove lucrative and economical, it could be a game changer in terms of results – tech products for a safer planet chief among them.
Oren Toledano is co-founder and CEO of Israel Tech Challenge, a partnership between the Jewish Agency, The Government of Israel’s Cyber Bureau, and Masa Israel Journey. Prior to his current position, Oren spent three years as Head of the Aliyah delegation of the Jewish Agency in France-Belgium, and before that served for nearly a decade as an officer in an elite technological unit of the IDF, reaching the rank of Major. Oren holds an MA in Political Science and Security Studies from Tel Aviv University, and a BA in Political Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Jacob Shiansky is the Masa Regional Representative for Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. He attended the University of South Carolina and double majored in Business Economics and Management. Prior to joining the Masa Israel team Jacob worked at Robert Half accounting where he worked in Finance Consulting and was a revenue accounting specialist.
Marisa is the Israel and Overseas Engagement Associate at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, where she is very excited to engage local young adults and connect them with Israel and overseas opportunities.
She holds a BFA in Graphic Design and Computer Imaging from Ohio Wesleyan University. After college, Marisa traveled on Birthright where she fell in love with the sites, people, and culture of Israel, and three weeks later she returned to Israel with WUJS Tel Aviv, program of Masa. After returning to Baltimore, she worked as a graphic designer and marketing manager for a Jewish day school and as a part-time swim coach at the local JCC. As an alumna of Birthright and Masa, she understands the meaningful impact of peer-travel and immersive Israel programs and looks forward to providing others with the same transformative experiences.
Mirit Balkan is the I-Connect Manager at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. I-Connect increases number of young Cleveland adults ages 18-30 going on Israel programs including Masa Israel Journey. Mirit began in 2011 and has established herself as the local "to go" person when looking for a long term Israel Experience in the Cleveland Jewish community. Mirit was born in Israel, served as a sharp shooter sniper in the IDF, worked in Walt Disney World and The Gilo, The Rabin Center in Israel. She holds a Master in Interdisciplinary Democracy & a certificate in Peace a building and conflict studies.
Amanda Monto is the Engagement Associate for Masa Israel in Chicago, where she serves as a community resource for Masa Israel opportunities. Prior to working at Masa, Amanda was a content manager for Prevent Child Abuse America. She is a University of Iowa alumna, with a degree in Communications and Psychology. Amanda served as a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow in Rishon LeZion from 2014-2015.
Rick was born in a small city in Florida near Tampa. He first went to Israel when he was 18 and was struck by the beauty of the country. That following summer he volunteered at a youth village in Pardes Hana. It was that experience that solidified his love and devotion to the State of Israel. While majoring in Jewish Studies and Social Work at the University of Florida (Go Gators!), Rick was extremely active in Jewish/Israel student organizations. Rick was the vice president of the JSU, a two-time Israel Month Director, and for two years he was a WZO Student Outreach Fellow. His greatest accomplishment at UF was directing the Florida Loves Israel Conference. In 2013, after his graduation, Rick made Aliyah and drafted into the IDF's Armored Corps. While in the IDF he was awarded best soldier in the company multiple times and was active in Operation Protective Edge. Rick is currently working as a Program Advisor in Masa's Jerusalem office. He is dedicated to sharing the beauty of Israel with all those who are interested in helping them find the best program possible.
Rachel Moses is the Director of Recruitment at Masa Israel, focusing on the full lifecycle recruitment process, including being the initial contact with potential internship and study abroad participants. Rachel helps ensure a positive candidate experience throughout the entire process. Rachel has been working at Masa since October 2011, and has expertise in our CRM and Masa Israel opportunities. Prior to working at Masa, Rachel was an elementary school teacher in New York City. She holds a Master of Science in Education and a Bachelor of Arts with honors from York University in Toronto.
Andria spends her time at Masa creating fresh and inspiring content for email, marketing collateral, blogs and much more. Andria is an alumna of Career Israel 2014-15 and spent her time on Masa interning for WMN, the first female incubator in Tel Aviv. Before working for Masa Andria was Director of Sales and Online Marketing for the branding agency Hey Now! Media in Cleveland, Ohio.
Axel Angeles is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Masa Israel. He is responsible for showcasing and bringing the Masa Israel experience to life through Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and more. Axel is an alumnus of Masa Israel where he received a Master’s in Security and Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University. Before working for Masa Israel, Axel worked as a marketing assistant for a company called LifeCell. His experience includes video production, Spanish/English translations, content editing, and product design.
Adi Zakai was born and raised in Israel. After completing her service in the IDF, she moved to New York to pursue higher education. She holds a BA degree from Hunter College and an MPA from Baruch College. At Masa, Adi manage the entire financial operation and HR of Masa NA. Prior to working at Masa Adi had worked at the Jewish Agency at Partnership 2000.
Adi lives in Forest Hills, NY with her husband and two boys. In her free time she enjoys swimming and hiking and camping with her family.