Ofek Lavian has two passions: business and Israel, his native land.
What he felt that he was missing when he went to college at the University of Southern California was an opportunity to learn about his home country while interacting with people who shared his same interests in it.
“I found myself really struggling to find an organization on campus that was tailored to my passions,” said the 20-year-old, who moved to Silicon Valley when he was 4. “I found a lot that were related to Judaism were political, religious, and/or cultural. As a business major and an entrepreneur, I wanted to look at Israel through another lens.”
Then he heard about the TAMID Israel Investment Group, a multi-phased program on college campuses connecting American students with the Israeli economic landscape. It seemed like the perfect way to merge his interests and learn about them in a new way.
When Lavian, now a junior, helped start a chapter at USC in 2011, there were 25 members. By the end of this semester, the group expects to have 40. To set it up, Lavian received $3,500 in funding from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; now, all the funds are solicited from private donors.
The origins of TAMID date back to 2008, when a group dedicated to providing American students with access to Israeli businesses launched at the University of Michigan. Since then, it has expanded to eight other campuses across the country, including USC and the University of California, Berkeley. In the fall, a handful of others is expected to be added, one of which may be University of California, Los Angeles, according to Max Heller, TAMID’s executive director of business development.
The goal is to “further advance and strengthen the connection between the United States and Israel,” he said. “We pioneer the next generation of American commitment to Israel by reaching out by future leaders on campuses.”
Students studying business, entrepreneurship, economics and similar subjects are eligible to join TAMID when they are undergraduates. Those selected take one semester of education in the fall on general business principles and the relationship between the United States and Israel from an economic perspective. The education component is divided among member-driven presentations and lectures from venture capitalists, professors and individuals well-versed in Israel’s economic scene.
Students showcase their research on certain aspects of business, and in the past they’ve hosted speeches on how the nuclear threat from Iran might affect Israeli businesses, as well as what changes might occur after the discovery of oil reserves in Israel.
TAMID also gives students the opportunity either to invest in Israeli securities using money they raise from donors or do pro-bono consulting work for Israeli startups.
During the summer, TAMID, which is based at the University of Michigan, hosts a fellowship trip to Israel. When it was first offered in 2010, five students went. There were eight in 2011, and last summer the number grew to 17. Students partook in internships in finance, energy sustainability and technology, and worked at various startups. Next summer, 40 fellows will have the chance to go and gain real world experience.
Although most of the students are Jewish, it is becoming diversified. Heller said that the larger a certain program grows, the more non-Jewish students get involved. The largest mix of students is currently at Michigan.
“We pride ourselves on working with talented and motivated students,” Heller said.
Lavian started his own T-shirt business with a fellow fraternity brother called Campus Ink in fall 2010. But he wanted to meet other self-starters. Through TAMID, he’s accomplished this while learning about Israel’s contributions to alternative energy, medicine and technology.
Last summer, Lavian secured a venture capital internship in Tel Aviv and lived alongside the program’s other students from around the country. He also met with the entrepreneurs behind Doweet, which coordinates meet-ups with friends and event planning, and Peer5, a startup that focuses on helping video content providers deliver the best viewing experience.
Now, USC consultants from TAMID are working with these companies. The students assist the startups with learning about the American economy and demographics, while they, in turn, have the chance to see what it takes to build a business.
“[Since there are] 7 million people in Israel and [more than] 300 million in the United States, for any Israeli company to be successful, they need to have their target market be global or in the U.S.,” Lavian said. “A lot of them have the technology in Israel but they need to target the U.S. market. That’s where TAMID comes in.”
Avior Ovadya, 25, who came to America from Israel to attend college four years ago, has been in TAMID for one semester at USC. Unlike his classes, which focus on the U.S. market, TAMID meetings give him the opportunity to understand what’s happening in the Israeli business world.
“Other than being a platform for students to learn about Israel, it’s also about understanding a little bit about what Israel is like, and why it’s such a pioneer in the technology field,” he said. “The group of people we have now is swell. They make our weekly meetings fun. We share everything from how our weeks were to our opinions on Israel.”
Jared Fleitman, co-founder of USC’s TAMID program and current president, said his time spent with the group has been the most enriching he’s had at USC.
“I’ve met more contacts through developing the curriculum than through any of my coursework,” said Fleitman, who is majoring in mechanical engineering, economics and mathematics. “It’s very useful for me. It’s very positive and I feel like I am part of a special community here.”
Like Fleitman, Lavian said that he has learned more from the practical experience gained through TAMID than he ever did in a classroom.
“Some things are really hard to learn in a classroom setting,” he said. “You need to get your hands dirty and your feet wet and do some hands-on learning. That’s exactly what TAMID does.”