Israel business course takes overseas field trip

Washington University freshman Jonathan Bo expects to learn more about Israel’s high technology sector. Bo has an interest in the Israeli business community’s development of a new asthma inhaler, which integrates aircraft turbine concepts into a traditional inhaler. This innovation allows asthma medicine to be more equally distributed into the lungs of a patient.

“The thing that’s really interesting about Israel’s technology is that they take ideas from different fields and make a new product,” said Bo, who is from Ladue.


Bo and his classmates will have the chance to learn about this new inhaler, as well as other business and technology innovations being developed in Israel, when they travel there during spring break. The trip is part of a new undergraduate class being taught at the university called “Business in Israel.”

Washington University Director of Student Development Steve Malter instructs the class, which offers the opportunity to learn about the country’s business community in a traditional academic setting and through a field trip to Israel. The class is scheduled to leave for the 10-day trip on March 4. It will include visits to the cities of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Herzliya and Yokneam-Megiddo.

“The most unique thing about this is that we’ll all go together,” Malter said. “We’ll get the chance to meet with business leaders, government officials and the leaders of educational institutions. There’s a big difference in the classroom and studying from afar.”

Washington University students Sean Wallis and Jared Kleinstein started talking to Malter about a class on business in Israel a little over a year ago. Nine students are enrolled in the class, which Malter describes as secular and open to Jewish and non-Jewish students.

“Israel’s economy has continued to do very well despite the global economic slowdown,” Malter said. “Something which is very unique about Israel is an incredible spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. Some of the kids in this class have been to Israel, but not all of them were aware of the entrepreneurial economy that exits there.”

One of the key texts for the class is “Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. Malter said the book “captures the entrepreneurial nature of Israel’s economy.”

In Israel’s early years the business community struggled with such challenges as a lack of foreign capital and the overall political instability of the region, but today the country’s economic landscape is flooded with entrepreneurial science and technology companies, Malter explained. Israel has more engineers per capita than any other country and high-tech giants such as Microsoft and Google have operations there.

Students in the class will observe the operations of Israeli businesses and then prepare reports. They are required to do a case analysis on the different industries they visit and when they return from the trip they will prepare a journal on those companies. Students will also write a final research paper on the industry they studied.

Marci Engel, a Washington University student from Birmingham, Ala, said she’s concentrating her studies on the story of the transformation of Israel’s Kibbutz — communal settlements once based on agriculture — into private enterprises. Amanda Barnnick, a student from Westchester County, N.Y., is interested in finding out more about the Israeli Defense Forces and how military technology is often converted into commercial use.

Malter said the local Jewish community has supported the class. St. Louis Jewish Federation Executive Vice-President Barry Rosenberg helped identify classroom speakers, made introductions to parties in Israel and helped set up visits in Israel.

The Coalition for Plant and Life Sciences’ Donn Rubin, who is also very involved in the science and technology community for the Jewish Community Relations Council, delivered a lecture on the ventures and partnerships between Israel and the state of Missouri in life sciences. ICL Performance Products CEO Charlie Weidhas, whose company produces phosphorus chemicals, acid, and salts and is also a subsidiary of Israel Chemicals Limited, is slated to speak later in the semester on the workings of the global economy and ICL’s role in it.

“We’ve had this incredible coming together of individuals from different disciplines who have supplemented our readings and case studies,” Malter said.