Israeli high-schoolers get a jump on entrepreneurship

Daniel Alon and Adam Levy are just 15 years old, but they have already invented helpful household gadgets that they hope to commercialize on a large scale.

Daniel and her team of 10 in Ramat Hasharon, Israel, created YaEzer, a vacuum-mop that requires no bending and was designed for pregnant women, seniors or those with back problems.

Adam and his team of 14 in Herzliya designed StopDrop (StopTipa), an absorbent drip-catcher that fits around the necks of bottles of oil, honey or other runny condiments. They are working on producing the 10-shekel product in cooperation with a mental health organization.

Daniel and Adam are both members of Young Entrepreneurs Israel, part of Junior Achievement Worldwide and Junior Achievement-Young Enterprise (JA-YE) Europe.

Each year, some 4,000 Israeli ninth-graders take part in weekly two-hour afterschool clubs at 200 schools in 10 regions across Israel.

“It’s fun to build a product with your friends and learn your strengths and weaknesses,” Adam said. “We learn about the business world, and when we get older and start work we can use the things we learned in the program. I’m the spokesman for our company and I learned how to manage people and money. I also learned to think out of the box.”

On June 21, the 10 winners of regional invention competitions presented their products in Tel Aviv to a panel of judges, who chose one to represent Israel at a JA-YE competition in Europe involving young inventors from 42 countries.

Herzliya’s StopDrop team invented a drip-stopper for bottles. photo/courtesy young entrepreneurs

In other countries, JA-YE members are high school seniors, while the Israelis are freshmen. Young Entrepreneurs Israel vice president Tamar Grunfeld said that Israeli 12th-graders have a heavy load of matriculation exams and can’t devote time to intensive afterschool electives.

“In the final competition in Europe we really see the difference in age,” Grunfeld said. “But even so, each year we have impressive results. Last year in Berlin there were 40 countries competing and Israel won third place.”

The European participants, heading straight to college, are more likely to be able to continue building the businesses they created during the program.

The younger Israeli participants won’t start college until completing two or three years of mandatory military service after high school. As a result, only about 5 percent of the student businesses created in Young Entrepreneurs Israel get off the ground, Grunfeld said.

This low statistic doesn’t faze Daniel Alon. She was already a successful model and businesswoman before joining Young Entrepreneurs Israel at her school. She gets quarterly royalties from the Israeli manufacturer-distributor of two fashion-oriented board games she invented.

“I knew about business before I came to this program, but here I learned more,” Daniel said. “The leaders of the program came to our school to talk about it and I thought it was a very cool idea, so I joined. The manager of a big company came to speak to us about business and helped us understand what we needed to do with YaEzer.”

Adam Levy is similarly ambitious. His Young Entrepreneurs company has a Facebook page and a website, and has done demos in school for teachers and parents. “We have a lot of good ideas,” he said.

Established in 1998 as a nonprofit organization with its own leadership from the business and academic community, Young Entrepreneurs Israel has one other aspect that sets it apart from the other JA-YE members, noted Grunfeld.

“The unique model we have here — really an Israeli model — is that the instructors are not teachers as they are in Europe and the U.S. Here, our students are taught by third-year business students from 19 different universities and colleges, who get credit for their participation with us.”

Volunteer mentors from the Israeli business community lend advice and expertise to the kids on everything from product development to sales and advertising. They host student exhibitions and competitions at their workplaces.

“Every year we try to bring really high-level people to talk with them,” said Gili Tal, coordinator for the 20-plus teams in the Sharon Region of Young Entrepreneurs Israel.

“We have companies such as Intel, HP, SanDisk, eBay and Bank Leumi working with us. They provide logistic and financial support, and develop personal and business skills in these kids as they decide what product to develop.” 

Reprinted with permission from Israel21c, www.israel21c.org

Abigail Klein Leichman

Abigail Klein Leichman is associate editor of ISRAEL21c.