Everyone Can Learn to Be an Entrepreneur

"One summer vacation, when I was 10 years old, I hung up notices in our neighborhood about a summer camp I was organizing. It was a big success. Parents sent me their children, I played with them four hours a day and made a few shekels. I quickly spent all the money, but the main thing was that I felt like an entrepreneur."

This personal anecdote is recounted by Ruta Kuleiman, who will soon be finishing her Master's degree at the Israel School of Entrepreneurial Management and Innovation (ISEMI), an extension of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. After studying biology at university, she attended the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in Ramat Hasharon. Kuleiman currently plays trumpet on Dudu Topaz' program, "First in Entertainment," on Channel Two.

The impulse to be an entrepreneur and to succeed in business is shared by many of those who have already set up companies, including Elron's Uzia Galil, Scitex' Efi Arazi, Iscar's Stef Wertheimer and Check Point's Gil Schwed. Individuals in this category share another characteristic: Their business achievements had nothing to do with any graduate degree in marketing, management, industrial engineering or entrepreneurship.

Today, entrepreneurship is being taught in the classroom. Haifa's Technion has launched graduate courses in high-tech entrepreneurship as part of its management program. Tel Aviv University has set up a course for managers in the high-tech field; this course is offered in conjunction with the university's Master's in Business Administration (MBA) program. Swinburne University's ISEMI grants a Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MEI), an Australian academic degree.

Can entrepreneurship really be taught or is it an inherent - and rare - talent promising success only to those who have been born with it?

Professor Liora Katzenstein, President and Dean of ISEMI, set up this institution in 1996, after having become familiar with the Israeli high-tech market through senior management positions with venture capital-funded companies such as Scopus Genetics, Consulta Associates and the American-Israeli Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation.

According to Katzenstein, Israel has a large pool of good ideas; however, the entrepreneurs trying to promote them need formal training. ISEMI makes no distinction between high-tech entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship in other fields. "We consider everybody who starts a business of any size and in any field an entrepreneur," she explains.

"We at ISEMI," Katzenstein points out, "do not `create' entrepreneurs but help those who have an entrepreneurial inclination to make the transition from a start-up venture to an established corporation, to develop appropriate business plans and to present their idea to potential investors. Our basic premise is that we are here to help those who are entrepreneurs at heart."

Prof. Adolph Hanich, Head of School at Swinburne and Director of the university's Australian Centre for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, feels that not everyone can be a successful entrepreneur. Nonetheless, he observes, there are many people whose entrepreneurial talents have not yet been tapped. These can be taught how to be effective entrepreneurs; in other words, they can learn to recognize their inborn skills, while, at the same time, they can also be given certain important tools to help them deal with solvable problems in the business world.

In accordance with this philosophy, Swinburne's entrepreneurship program accepts only persons who have proven entrepreneurial talent, that is, persons who have already managed to sell a product or to set up their own business or who have a vision they have not yet realized. Entrepreneurs, observes Hanich, see opportunities in places where others see only failure. In fact, he believes that the high-tech industry's present crisis is a very suitable time for seizing opportunities and for proving one's mettle as an entrepreneur.

As one ISEMI graduate, Prof. Michael Epstein, sees it, people who lack entrepreneurial talent will not automatically become successful members of the business community after taking the MEI course; however, suitable candidates will be able to glean from the course valuable information at the macro level that is needed by every executive.

Epstein, who has a Ph.D. from the Weizmann Institute of Science and is involved in three start-up companies, believes that ISEMI provided him with the tools that have enabled him to perform dynamically in the constantly changing world of entrepreneurship.

When Ramon Tzur arrived in Israel and began studying at ISEMI, he thought, with his business experience in Canada, he knew all about entrepreneurship. Today, he realizes his mistake. At ISEMI, he learned the importance of such things as delegating authority and adjusting to the business cultures of other countries. Entrepreneurship is a built-in talent, but, in order to succeed in business, studies are a must, he concedes.