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Fridays from the Frontline: MIT Sloan’s Israel Lab

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Israel is in the news this week following President Donald Trump’s first official meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which took place on Wednesday. Our Fridays from the Frontline also centers on Israel, but without touching on the incredibly fraught subject of a one- versus two-state solution for the conflict-ridden region.

Instead, we focus on a series of fascinating blog posts written by MIT Sloan School of Management students who spent their winter break taking part in MIT Sloan’s Israel Lab. Now in its second year, Israel Lab takes Sloan students on a journey to one of the world’s foremost centers of start-up innovation and entrepreneurship during their January break from classes. While there—and in the months leading up to the trip—student teams partner with Israeli firms to tackle complex problems in areas ranging from high-tech and life sciences to clean tech and analytics.

Three-Month Engagement with Israeli Firms Culminates in Site Visit
In fact, Israel Lab students spend a full three months engaged with their partner firms, working remotely from MIT during the fall before traveling for a three-week, on-site capstone visit. As part of Israel Lab, many of the students blogged regularly about their experience, starting back in late December as they were preparing to leave for their trip.

As North Dakota native Ellie Klose wrote in one such pre-travel reflection piece, her work over the course of the fall with Israeli firm Voyager Labs had given her a much greater appreciation for and understanding of Jewish culture and sentiments, leaving her excited to see and experience the differences between the United States and Israel firsthand. Her goals heading into the visit to Israel included contributing significantly as part of the project she and her team had been working on at Voyager Labs, a data tech start-up providing human behavior analysis, while strengthening her relationships with both the Israeli team members and her fellow Sloan classmates. She also set out to learn more about business attitudes in Israel. “How does Voyager Labs operate differently from other start-ups I’ve worked with? What do they do that’s the same?” she wrote. “How is Voyager Labs similar to and dissimilar to the ‘typical’ Israeli start-ups? What works and what doesn’t?” Last but not least, Klose wrote that she hoped the experience would provide her with valuable perspective. “I’m excited to see the many deeply culturally significant locations in Israel,” she wrote. “Knowing the history of the place and the triumphs and defeats that have occurred gives a different perspective and time-scale to consider when facing everyday problems at MIT or elsewhere.”

Work Experiences, Cultural Experiences Interwoven throughout the Trip
Klose would go on to write several more blog posts over the course of her three weeks in Israel, as well as a post-reflection piece from back in Boston, summarizing some of the most valuable aspects of the experience. Over the course of her posts, readers can learn both about her work at Voyager Labs—specifically on a project called Scorpio, an alternative scoring tool she and teammates had been using to complete market research—as well as the impact her visits to places like Old City Jerusalem and Yad Vashem Museum had on her personally. “The Old City tour gave me a better understanding of why the land is so important to so many different religions/cultures,” Klose wrote. “I didn’t realize how contested the land has been for thousands of years—it made me feel less certain that we will find a peaceful resolution for the conflict in my lifetime, but who knows, the LGBT movement in the U.S. shows just how quickly public feeling can change with new generations.”

Looking back on the experience as a whole, Klose concludes that it’s the team component of Israel Lab that has had the greatest impact on her. “I’m usually a person who is very focused on the work/final product and expect the team dynamic to fall into place, but I’ve learned that an enjoyable group dynamic doesn’t necessarily always form by accident, so I want to be better prepared to facilitate a positive group dynamic in the future,” she wrote.

Taken Together, Israel Lab Blog Series Is Revelatory
Klose was just one of several Israel Lab student participants who blogged leading up to, throughout and after the Israel trip. Each of these series of posts reveals a great deal about the individual work projects the students team took part in—ranging from helping logistics technology firm Freightos monetize its data from sea freight shippers, carriers and service providers from around the world to helping Reporty, a mobile platform designed to save lives by streamlining emergency first response, understand the potential U.S. market for its offerings and creating a go-to market strategy.

But more than that, each series also reflects the intensely personal experience each individual student had, both in terms of professional growth, honing teamwork and leadership skills and living in and learning about a part of the world caught at the complicated crossroads of religion and history. Together, the blog series really brings to life MIT Sloan’s Israel Lab experience, which one student, Jessie Liu, called “the most rewarding and interesting class I have ever had in MIT.”  If you are interested in innovation, start-ups, Israel, MIT Sloan or any combination thereof, it’s worth checking out.

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