When you think of founding partners in a tech startup, you probably don’t think of Israelis and Palestinians working together. And when you think of their marketing consultants, you probably don’t think of the students.
But in the Bridging Conflicts, Creating Diversity: An Entrepreneurial and Marketing Experience summer course, that’s exactly what happens.
Co-directed by professors Amir Grinstein and Daniele Mathras from the D’Amore-McKim School of Business as part of a partnership with the technology accelerator 50:50 StartupsBridging Conflicts matches Northeastern students with startups co-founded by Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs.
50:50 Startups brings together startups co-led by Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs and helps them grow through courses and mentorship. For companies, the northeast route is the “icing on the cake” of the multi-month program, says Grinstein. Over the course of seven weeks, Northeast students are marketing consultants for their assigned startups, giving entrepreneurs valuable insights to help them succeed in their businesses.
The course also serves the larger purpose of helping to build relationships across the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as entrepreneurs work together towards a common goal. “It doesn’t take away from the conflict,” says Grinstein, “but it just gives another perspective for people who are open-minded and interested in knowing the other side, and passionate about entrepreneurship.”
This year, nine different startups and 14 students from across the Northeast participated in the course, which emphasized collaborative and hands-on learning. The students, hailing from as far away as Oman, Colombia and Japan, had the unique opportunity to apply what they learned to real projects.
“As we teach stuff in the classroom, they do it right away on these projects,” Mathras says.
It is also a mentorship opportunity for entrepreneurs, who will leave the course with a market research report and a polished pitch deck. In college, the founders had project managers and market researchers, as well as important sounding boards to test assumptions, ask questions, and make sure they communicated clearly.
“Sometimes when you’re so focused on your own business, nobody challenges you,” says Daniele. Here, however, students act as “third parties” to ask tough questions.
More importantly, everything was real.
“I never had the real chance to join a company. We always have school projects, but they are not real, so I have no pressure,” says Wenbo (Tacit) Li, who is graduating with a degree in business administration this fall and focuses on entrepreneurship and l ‘innovation. “But for that, it’s a real adventure. I have to put all my effort into it. »
Li has partnered with Cloe, a health and wellness startup that helps people access nutrition plans. Cloe’s mission is to empower nutritionists to better manage their clients and have a closer relationship with them through a downloadable app.
When the class visited Microsoft’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Li introduced the company on behalf of the founders and got real-time feedback from professionals. In addition to being able to apply what she was learning to real-life scenarios, she says, the course taught her to “trust herself and express what you really mean.”
Where does this unique course come from?
Grinstein, who was born in Israel, developed the idea four years ago when he realized he could use his talents to make a difference. “I could find a way through this program to bring my skills in marketing and entrepreneurship and really leverage it and do something good,” he said.
He partnered with Mathras and they ran the course as a virtual pilot in the summer of 2021. This year it was run as a hybrid model, and Mathras hopes that the next time the course runs, he can be done entirely in person, in accordance with its unique collaborative format.
Surprisingly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict did not have much impact on the course. When people come together to solve a problem, Grinstein found, they find they love the same football team, the same foods, and have the same goals. When businesses fail, “95% of the time it’s not because of political conflict,” he says. “I actually like to see when they fail like that…it’s normal failure.”
The project is not without its challenges, however. Grinstein has had difficulty obtaining visas for contractors to come to Boston, and last year two people had to drop out of the course due to the Gaza bombings. All course participants have to navigate different cultures, languages and time zones, but, as Mathras said, this is a valuable experience in itself. “It’s the real world. You’re going to be working in multinational teams when you’re in the real world,” she says. “You’re going to have to deal with these time issues. You will be dealing with cultural differences.
In the long term, Grinstein and Mathras have high hopes for the program’s social impact. They would like to see similar programs that match people based on their differences: skin color, country, social status, gender, political party, etc. They believe diversity in founders will help create more diverse companies overall. “They won’t hesitate to hire people who are very different from them,” says Grinstein.
Thinking about the impact of the program, Daniele recalls the echo chamber of social media. “You are in your little bubble. You see what you see, and you don’t see things outside of it,” she says. “This model really opens up a dialogue between groups that might not otherwise have that dialogue.”
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