Incubating Innovation: Google Israel and StarTAU

American Friends get an inside look at the cutting-edge of the "Innovation Nation"

Renowned as a powerhouse of R&D, Israeli innovation has captured the world's imagination. Visitors flock to the "start-up nation" for just a glimpse of the phenomenon at work — but "Discover TAU: Campus and Beyond" travellers saw much more.

Prof. Yossi Matias, managing director of Google's Research & Development center in Israel and a Tel Aviv University faculty member, invited the group for a briefing at the global business leader’s Tel Aviv office. Now one of the fastest growing centers of Google, the six-year-old R&D center has played a crucial role in developing new technologies for applications including gmail, search, and data transfer.

Google measures success by impact, Prof. Matias says what products they launch, how they aid Google users, and how important they become to the company's overall product offerings. "The talent here is important, as well as the education level, culture, and industrial experience. Our innovative Israeli culture is a great match for Google," he told the group, explaining the company’s decision to open a center in Israel.

While the corporate culture of Google is global, meaning that Israel's offices offer up the same creative workspace and employee satisfaction rates that the company’s headquarters is famous for, Prof. Matias supports interactions with the community at large, including projects to digitize the Dead Sea Scrolls, create an online community and museum experience for Yad Vashem, and create collaborations with Israeli academia — including TAU — for research, grant programs and student internships.

Creating STARs

TAU nurtures innovation directly, too — through StarTAU, a targeted program to foster an “ecosystem of entrepreneurship” on campus. A non-profit organization, StarTAU provides workshops and training courses, events and professional consultations for aspiring young entrepreneurs, students and alumni alike. Equally valuable, it offers all-important connections to industry contacts who can move projects into development.

"Our program helps to accelerate and encourage new entrepreneurs, providing support for them to develop their projects and business skills," said Elad Cohen Toren, one of the organizers of the program.

Mission participants enjoyed sitting in on a session as students presented their business ventures. Marc Singer, founding partner and advisor at Singer Xenos Wealth Management, said that the program could be an integral part of the students' future success. As an investor familiar with the challenges that entrepreneurs face, he called start-ups an "integral" part of the Israeli psyche: "If they can get this experience at TAU, they will be two years ahead" when they enter the business world, he said.

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