Tel Aviv University (TAU), founded in 1950s, is Israel’s largest and most influential institution of higher learning. In a span of half a century, TAU has emerged as one of the best universities in the world, according to various global rankings. “TAU is defined by ground-breaking research, leading researchers and faculty, a strong interdisciplinary focus, and the values of globalism, pluralism and social responsibility,” says Joseph Klafter, president, TAU, who was in India recently to attend the India-Israel Forum sponsored by TAU and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). In an interview with FE’s Vikram Chaudhary, he shares a few notes on entrepreneurship. Excerpts:
Israel has become famous for its start-up culture. What has been the role of Israeli universities in promoting the same?
While modern entrepreneurs, more often than not, are born in universities, the primary mandate of a university must be basic research. Without excellent basic research, you cannot do any kind of innovation. Another role of a university is to provide the right means to those who can take the basic research to an idea that can be commercialised. So, the university has to play a mentor.
How should students approach the mentor?
A student who has an idea—be it any kind of idea—must not shy away from support. At times, what happens is the idea may not appear to be very clever—or the one that can be successfully commercialised—but a professor can have the foresight and provide the student the right direction.
At the same time, a dedicated entrepreneurship arm can make things easier for would-be entrepreneurs. For example, at Tel Aviv University, there is a non-profit organisation called StarTAU—TAU is short for Tel Aviv University—founded in 2009 by a group of students who felt there’s a gap in the academy’s ability to support early-stage entrepreneurs inside the campus. Today, StarTAU has grown to be the largest entrepreneurship centre in Israel.
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How does StarTAU operate?
Its mission is to provide students with the professional guidance they need to start a business. Assistance is provided in fields like biotech, internet & low-tech ventures, medical devices, patent licensing, mobile applications. Training includes mentorship, workshops, seminars and funding opportunities with a database of over 250 angels and venture capitalists. StarTAU offers key networking and business resources and open space hubs for students and entrepreneurs.
Does StarTAU also help students with the patent process?
That’s where the role of a technology transfer company on the campus assumes importance. We have the Ramot business engagement centre. The Ramot brings promising scientific discoveries, developed by TAU’s scientists, to markets, either to MNCs or newly-founded companies. It provides the legal and commercial frameworks for inventions made by TAU faculty, students and researchers, monetising discoveries with intellectual property.
What have been the major innovations at TAU?
A lot, in fact. As far as daily use things are concerned, innovations such as barcode scanners, bacteria-destroying mouthwash and memory cards were originally developed by TAU researchers. These products made their way from patents to commercial products, thanks to Ramot.
Lastly, what should be the role of the government in promoting entrepreneurship?
Government should find resources for universities, and let universities themselves find the path—let them decide what to do with the money.