From Israeli Start-Ups to NYC Success: Masa Israel Journey Builds the Next Generation of Digital Entrepreneurs

(l-r) Gal Sela, Associate Community Manager at WeWork; Guy Franklin, General Manger of SOSA and Founder of Israeli Mapped in NY; and Adi Hila Yoffe, Director of North American Business Development at Masa Israel Journey converse about the Israeli and New York start-up ecosystems, during a February 8, 2017, New York gathering co-hosted by Masa Israel Journey and Israeli start-up Playbuzz. Photo by Axel Angeles/Masa Israel Journey.

Representatives from Israeli start-ups with a presence in New York, including WeWork, the shared workspace innovator, and Playbuzz, the interactive storytelling platform, convened in Playbuzz’s Manhattan headquarters last week to discuss the benefits of working in Israel’s tech industry. The gathering was co-hosted by Masa Israel Journey, which offers students and young professionals career development opportunities across the “Start-Up Nation.”

Among those in attendance were Guy Franklin, general manager of SOSA (South of Salame), a multi-dimensional platform for global start-up ecosystems, and founder of “Israeli Mapped in NY,” an interactive map of Israeli start-ups in New York; Shachar Orren, VP of Content at Playbuzz; Michael Sadan, a content licensing specialist at Financial Times; Chris Schembra, founder of the 747 Club; and Jonathan Poor of Startupbootcamp FinTech.

Adi Hila Yoffe, director of business development for North America at Masa Israel Journey, together with Adi Barel, Masa’s director of international business development, convened the gathering to deepen the organization’s collaboration with the global Israeli ecosystem in order to further create a global community that provides the best opportunities for Masa participants and alumni. It is one of several such events happening around the country.

Yoffe kicked off the conversation, describing how only recently have internships become a regular part of the Israeli business model. In 2007, with a breakthrough partnership between Masa Israel Journey – an initiative of The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Government of Israel – and the Ministry of Economy and Social Security, the internship program concept was introduced into the Israeli workplace. Every year since, thousands of U.S. interns have been hired by Israeli firms, where they develop critical skills that allow them to advance their careers when they return home.

Interns in Israeli start-up companies have intensive, hands-on work experiences unlike anywhere else in the world. “The mentality in Israel is completely unique,” said Yoffe. “Risks are encouraged, and mistakes are brushed off. Israeli start-ups, across the board, are safe spaces where all employees, and interns especially, are encouraged to be critical and to improvise. They are asked to be outspoken, and they are listened to. As a result, Masa Israel Journey alumni enter the U.S. job market more confident, and more knowledgeable, than they would otherwise be.”

Margot Touitou is one such alumna. Now a Playbuzz content account manager in New York, she told the group that it was her Masa Israel internship at Tel Aviv tech company Brayola that helped her secure her current job. “I would never be where I am today if it wasn’t for that experience,” she commented. “It was absolutely what made me, and my resume, stand out when I was applying for positions in the U.S.”

The old cliché of interns getting coffee could not be further from the truth in Israeli start-ups, said Shachar Orren, Playbuzz’s vice president of content. “While in most companies around the world, an intern and a CEO wouldn’t even be in the same room as one another, in Israel it’s not uncommon to see them sitting alongside each other, sharing feedback and ideas.”

The conversation also turned to shared office space, a trend that WeWork pioneered. Members don’t just share office amenities, but, inspired by the Israeli kibbutz system, they also pool together resources, creating a community of entrepreneurs. It is a community that Masa Israel Journey joined earlier this year, when WeWork became its newest official corporate sponsor. Together this fall, they launched the WeWork Masa-GLI Business & Innovation Leadership Fellowship, a training program for Masa Israel program participants.