The first ever Israel Summit at Michigan drew about 100 students and community members to the Ross School of Business Sunday morning for an event highlighting Israeli innovation and entrepreneurship. The summit opened with accomplished speakers in diverse industries including entrepreneur tech influencer Inbal Arieli and Sivan Ya’ari, the founder of Innovation: Africa, a technology non-profit. 

Business senior Nikki Hassan, who helped organize the event, said she was thrilled with the speaking lineup.

“It made us so happy, the willingness of people to come and share the positive ways that Israel’s innovation and technology impact the rest of the world,” Hassan said. 

LSA senior Nadav Neuman, who attended the summit, commented on the importance of Israeli innovations. 

“It’s a small country that has had a huge impact on the world as we know it, so it’s important to learn about it in that sense,” Neuman said.

About 20 pro-Palestine protesters holding signs and flags stood peacefully outside the elevators adjacent to the event’s entrance. Their central message, according to their pamphlet, said the summit was “a publicity event meant to promote pro-Israel sentiment on our campus” and “is direct propaganda that belittles the illegal occupation of Palestine and human rights violations.” 

Inbal Arieli is the author of “Chutzpah: Why Israel is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.” She called Israel a “startup nation.” 

“Israel today has the highest density of startups in the world. We’re talking one startup for every 15,000 people. We have a joke in Israel that every taxi driver is a startup entrepreneur,” Arieli said. 

She then went into her main argument, saying an Israeli upbringing promotes greater creativity and risk taking later in life. 

“Do I think that Israeli kids at the age of four or five are different from their friends elsewhere in the world?” Arieli said. “No, but I do think that the environment is different. The way we adults … react to what they do is different. The freedom of exploring and experimenting and learning how to trust yourself is instilled at a very young age.” 

Tolerance to failure also plays a key role in entrepreneurship, Arieli said.

“If you actually want to empower people to make decisions and be accountable for what they do, there needs to be the freedom to make some mistakes and to learn from those mistakes,” Arieli said.

LSA senior Lily Barash also attended the event and found Arieli’s message inspirational and applicable to anyone.

“I appreciated just learning how chaos can contribute to innovation, because I never thought of innovation in that way before. I thought of innovation as structured and learning from structure, but she really twisted that entirely and reversed the whole message,” Barash said.  

Ya’ari is the founder and CEO of Innovation: Africa, a nonprofit bringing Israeli solar, agricultural and water technologies to African villages. Ya’ari took the audience through her journey of providing light to schools and hospitals, highlighting the difference a little technology combined with generosity can make in people’s lives.

“Our contribution is quite modest,” Ya’ari said. “All we do is just capture energy from the sun that exists and pump water that comes from the ground that exists. It’s so simple.”

To date, Innovation: Africa has completed solar projects in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, impacting the lives of nearly one million people. It was honored with an Innovation Award by the United Nations in 2013. 

To Ya’ari, the secret of nonprofit success is simple. 

“It doesn’t take much to help others,” Ya’ari said. “Just share.”

The summit also featured an opportunity fair designed to help connect students with Israeli organizations like IsraAID, Tel Aviv University International, Tikkun Olam and Birthright Excel. 

Business junior Jared Horowitz said he was appreciative of the unique opportunities the fair brought to work with the Israeli community.

“There are a lot of opportunities to go to Israel, to intern in Israel, to get more involved with the Jewish community,” Horowitz said. “A lot of students don’t really know about those opportunities, so this provides insight into different areas that they can contribute and try to achieve their goals in the business world.”  

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