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Tel Aviv University Is Start-up Campus

The Israeli institution is ninth in the world for the number of alumni going on to become successful entrepreneurs.

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Students at Tel Aviv University, December 2012. Credit: Eyal Toueg

The next Mark Zuckerberg may not test his ideas out in a Harvard dorm but in the student housing at Tel Aviv University.

Tel Aviv is ninth in the world for the number of alumni going on to become successful high-tech entrepreneurs, according to a global survey of some 13,000 entrepreneurs conducted by PitchBook, a Seattle-based venture capital research company.

That put it behind such legendary high-tech seedbeds like Stanford University, the University of California Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which were 1, 2 and 3 in the world. But with 169 entrepreneur alumni responsible for starting 141 companies, Tel Aviv was only four places behind No 5-ranked Harvard and ahead of Yale, Princeton and Columbia.

Tel Aviv University was one of three Israeli institutions to make it into PitchBook’s top 50 universities, based on total number of startups formed by universities’ alumni from January 2009 until last week.

The Technion Israel Institute of Technology placed No. 18 in the survey, with 119 entrepreneurs starting up 98 companies and The Hebrew University was 36th, with 69 entrepreneurs and 61 companies, PitchBook said.

Giora Shalgi, a former CEO at the defense company Rafael and now a senior research fellow at the Technion’s Samuel Neaman Institute, said Tel Aviv’s high-ranking may have to do with its location in the center of the country, which supplies a disproportionate number of recruits to the Israel Defense Forces’ 8200 intelligence unit, a hotbed for startup enterprises, who then go on to TAU to get a degree

Shlagi expressed concern that Israel’s universities don’t take enough of an interest in cultivating entrepreneurial talent. “At the universities, there is less and less interest in graduating entrepreneurs. The Technion wants Noble Prizes while entrepreneurs interest it less. I think that’s going to hurt the Technion, because a student doesn’t come to be a scientist, he comes to be an engineer.”

Pitchbook said Tel Aviv alumni had raised a combined $1.25 billion since 2009 for startups such as the home-design platform Houzz, the photo-sharing startup Mobly Media and Zerto, a disaster-recovery software maker.

Technion graduates raised a combined $797 million and Hebrew University alumni a total of $560 million. That compared with $3.52 billion, the most of any university, by Stanford alumni.