Getting Out of the Ghetto: An Israeli Entrepreneur Gives Back

Rony Zarom, born in a poor area of central Israel, is determined to give others the opportunities he never had.

An iPhone app to screen individual callers, a toothbrush to sit on the end of your finger, a bottle top that allows you to choose the flavor of your water. The Unistream program is a breeding ground for underprivileged Israeli youths bursting with innovation and creativity.

Unistream and its "Junior MBA" program are the brainchild of Rony Zarom, an Israeli entrepreneur born in a poor area of central Israel, now determined to give others the opportunities he never had.

Alex Mandel

The MBA program takes students of all family origins from all around Israel and provides them with top entrepreneurial mentors. The students participate in workshops that provide the knowledge for students to conduct market research, see the product through to development, production and hopefully with the cash prize, advertising and distribution. The culmination of each year in the program is the annual competition.

Unistream says its goal is to help students "realize their potential and break out of the vicious cycle of poverty." While many may complain about the annual international handouts for Israel, few are aware of the growing demographic inequality and economic divides the country is facing within its own borders.

Courtesy of Unistream

Communities in Israel's peripheries face severe shortages in resources and opportunities to get out of the ghetto. And Zarom is determined to level the playing field. According to Unistream, the organization believes "education, leadership and confidence are the only ways to curb the dangerous economic divide and trend towards peripheral poverty."

Unistream has a network of centers around Israel designed to create young businessmen and women, activists and leaders out of motivated high school students who are only lacking opportunity. For three years, participants around Israel meet twice a week after school at local centers. The highly competitive program gives students guidance from top CEOs and a chance to learn how to make the best choices for themselves, and get ahead in the cutthroat business world.

Unistream held their annual entrepreneurial competition on July 8 at Bar Ilan University. There, after a year of hard work, high school students presented their products, research and business models to the public and to a panel of judges.

The fervent cheers of the young entrepreneurs overwhelmed the hostess of the annual Unistream Entrepreneur of the Year competition. The crammed auditorium housed 450 high school age participants, as well as their advisors, mentors, parents and friends, all anxious to know whose team would earn the grand prize totaling NIS 15,000. More than that, students are competing for the chance to finalize their products and catapult themselves into the business world and their futures.

Some of the projects are so feasible that in the past various start-ups have bought the rights to students work.

This year's first-place winner was YYY, an Or Yehuda-based group whose product "YTaimLi" (wow, it's tasty) - a pill that instantly turns water into coffee, tea or lemonade - earned the prize of NIS 15,000. The group teamed up with food technologists to create the mixture and the Weizmann Institute to manufacture it. They even went so far as to import a machine from China to produce the finished product.

The students were proud and excited to demonstrate their fluency and hard work, even at times struggling through the pitch in English for Anglo passers-by. One organizer commented that, Unistream is more than an MBA, its an empowerment program for teenagers, whether they are Jewish, Muslim, Druze, native or immigrant. We hope to give them the confidence to push themselves and succeed."

This philosophy seems to have paid off. In the words of Gadi Goldstein, a 16-year-old graduate of the program: "If it hadn't been for Unistream I might have just become a waiter, now I have bigger dreams."