The Journey Continues

Hello again! One year later, and once again, a group of 12 MBA students (both from Smith, as well as other top MBA programs) is primed to depart for eight weeks in Haifa, Israel as part of the Dingman Center’s Global Technology Entrepreneurship Fellowship program.

To myself and the inaugural team from summer 2010, the fact that the program has continued into a second year provides perhaps the greatest sense of satisfaction. It delivers tangible affirmation of the entrepreneurial path we blazed last summer. As the first participants in a brand new program, we knew the risks involved. Yet, without a doubt, last summer not only met, but exceeded our expectations. More importantly, we helped lay the foundation for this year's team to hit the ground running.

As I have mentioned previously on many occasions in this blog - Israel is an entrepreneur's dream. It is the quintessential Start-Up Nation. It is a land of high-tech innovation and a center of venture capital. Yet, it is also a land of many contradictions. For these and a myriad of other reasons, Israel is a fascinating laboratory for any business professional interested in studying innovation or entrepreneurship.

This post marks my final comments on the program. However, the story continues for this year's MBAs. If you are interested in reading about and following their exploits in Israel over the following two months, please head over to their page to find out more. Fellow MBA and 2011 participant Andrew Giessel has taken over blogging duties for this year's program. I wish him all the best, and hope you enjoy reading his posts this summer.

Final Videos

Well, it has been quite a while since my last post! That being said, it was definitely nice taking a well deserved break after the hectic - mile-a-minute - pace I'd kept while in Israel. One person who was still working however was trip videographer, Steve Kushner, who after taking a brief detour into Jordan, returned home and pulled together two final videos chronicling our program. These videos capture the essence of our last three weeks in Israel - both in terms of the activities we participated in and the places we visited. Enjoy!

Back In The USA

Last Friday morning at 4:45AM Eastern Standard Time, I landed safely back in the United States of America from Tel Aviv, Israel. After passing through customs and then a quick layover at Newark International Airport, I was in Washington by 8:20AM. All in all, it has been a very long, but satisfying summer in Israel these past 10 weeks. In so many ways, this program met and then exceeded my expectations. It was awesome!

Without a doubt, it is going to take a while to fully process the trip, before I can report back with my true post-Israel thoughts. Over the next few weeks though, I'll look to have a few posts here and there, recapping the trip, linking to the final YouTube videos, etc. So look for those in the following weeks. Additionally, later in August, the team will also be getting together once again with donors for a reception at the Robert H. Smith School. Further, we'll be pitching next years program to the incoming class of MBA students.

Farewell Israel

After two months, our summer program in Israel has finally come to an end. The Smith team accomplished a lot - and for me personally - I believe this was a fantastic chance to participate in an internship unlike any other. It was challenging and rewarding in so many different ways. After I get a chance to decompress back in the States for a few days I'll provide a bit more post-game analysis. Until then, here is our final group photo - taken the second to last week - right before we drove south to Eilat from Rehovot.

Team Members, From Left to Right
Chris Rajashekar, Steve Kushner, Brad Husser, Don Mayer, Anne Bisso, Dan Branscome, Kelley Harris, Asher Epstein (Program Director), Sean Luke, Gil Sharon, Kristin Thompson

Dead Sea Visit

Yesterday, after our fantastic hike and tour of Masada, we departed for our next stop of the day - the Ein Gedi waterfalls. Located west of the Dead Sea, close to Masada and the caves of Qumran, Ein Gedi contains a natural oasis, cave, and spring system - as well as a series of waterfalls and pools cascading from the high mountains above. It is a spectacular place - especially when you consider the surrounding desert conditions. Everyone who passes through the region inevitably stops at Ein Gedi - even if only just for a moment.

From the bus we hiked to the upper waterfall and pool. After our earlier hike at Masada, this one was pretty much a literal "walk in the park". That being said, it was still pretty hot, so some folks definitely took this as an opportunity to gripe. Once everyone was sitting in the cool water all the cares floated away. As we walked back down the trail to the parking lot, our guide mentioned the cultural and religious significance of the site. Apparently, Ein Gedi is mentioned several times in biblical writings. For example, it is featured prominently in the Song of Songs and also in Samuel - where David hides from Saul in the caves of Ein Gedi.

After departing the waterfalls, we traveled further up the coast to Mineral Beach - a small resort and spa along the shores of the Dead Sea. Heading straight to the beach, we jumped into the water. Since the water has such a high concentration of salt, you float right to the top. It's a very strange sensation, to say the least. The water also has a very smooth feel to it - almost like an oil - but not quite. Apparently, you can stay in the water for hours and hours, without ever getting wrinkled skin. Up on the beach was a small area to apply mud - which we each quickly caked all over ourselves. So much fun!

From the beach area, we all casually moved up to the on-site sulfur hot springs. Topping out at about 110 degrees Fahrenheit, this pool was a welcome third natural treatment after the waters of the Dead Sea and the full body mud applications. To be sure, it was absurdly hot outside, but believe it or not, these pools felt fantastic. Altogether, this was a great way to spend our final afternoon of the trip together. Tonight we are in Tel Aviv and tomorrow everyone says goodbye for the final time before going our separate ways. Without a doubt, it has been a good run this summer, but it had to end sooner or later. C'est la vie!

The Fortress Masada

Masada is perhaps the second most famous Jewish site in Israel after the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Built by Herod the Great between 37 and 31 BCE, there were two immaculate palaces, fortified as a place of refuge for the monarch in times of crisis. During the Jewish Revolt in 66 CE, the fortress was seized by religious zealots (the Sicarii) who had fled from Jerusalem after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans. Not content with only near total victory, the Romans besieged Masada in order to crush the final resistance. 

After many weeks preparing for our fateful climb of Masada, the day of our accent was finally here. Early Wednesday morning, the team awoke after our only semi-restful night at the Bedouin tent. Arriving at the entrance to the Masada park, the group exited the vehicle, got fresh water, and then began the trek up the Snake Path - while two in the group - Kelly and Anne - opted to take the cable car. From the base to the guard tower at the top is a very steep (and winding) climb. It took us all between 25 and 40 minutes to make the journey. Steve blazed up the hill with me hot on his heels. I finished second in a little under 30 minutes. Getting to the top (and out of the heat) was definitely a great feeling!

At the top, we toured the site and saw the many restored buildings and landmarks. We walked through the Western and Northern Palaces, as well as visiting the storehouses and private baths. It is an impressive and very large site. It's also very cool to see in person. One thing we did learn from our guide was that the site is no longer used as prominently by the military as it once was. At the end of the story, the zealots of Masada killed themselves and their families rather than surrender to the Romans. This had previously been regarded as an honor worthy in the IDF - but now has been minimized to a great degree.

After finishing our tour of the site, we returned to the entrance to the cable car for the descent back to the bus and then off to our remaining visits of the day. Masada was definitely all its cracked up to be and the hike was a surefire highlight of the trip.

Out In The Desert

On Tuesday morning the team left Mitzpe Ramon for the drive north to Masada and the Dead Sea. Our first stop of the day was Avdat, the well preserved ruins of an ancient Nabatean city. Altogether, Avdat covers a wide area and includes a huge series of buildings - surrounded by an enormous rock wall. It is hard to believe that anyone would choose to live out in this hot and desolate area - especially in an era before A/C. To combat these difficulties, the ingenious Nabateans created unique water tech and other innovations.

"The team exploring the ruins of the Avdat site"
Photo by Kristin Thompson

Our second stop of the day was at Ein Avdat - a nearby nature reserve and park - for a short (but strenuous) hike. Carved into the desert floor, the canyons of Ein Avdat are really very beautiful. After walking in from the drop off point we reached a fork in the path where we quickly ascended about 100 meters in less than 10 minutes. By the top we were all sweating pretty profusely. Nearby to Ein Avdat is the burial site of David Ben-Gurion, the George Washington of Israel and the great statesman who helped guide the country to independence in 1948. Interestingly, it's very quiet site, despite its significance.

"Our museum guide explaining the history behind some old aircraft"
Photo by Christopher Rajashekar

Following this visit, we traveled to the Israeli Air Force Museum at Hatzerim Airbase. Over the next two hours we toured the site, looking at a whole variety of combat aircraft spanning the entire period of Israeli history from independence to the current day.  This visit was of keen interest to a few of the plane junkies on our trip (i.e. Don Mayer and Sean Luke). Honestly, Don and Sean were like kids in a candy store. That being said, I think everyone thought it was a cool museum - though a bit heavy handed at times with patriotic vitriol.

"Don's camel - up close and personal"
Photo by Kristin Thompson

After another hour on the road we arrived at our home for the night - a Bedouin camp in the desert - with Masada in the distant background. Our first activity upon arrival was a 20 minute camel ride. Believe it or not, camels are not as smelly or ill tempered as they are often portrayed. It was not the most comfortable ride, but no one had any real complaints. After the ride, we were welcomed in a traditional Bedouin ceremony. Our host provided us with fresh bread, tea and bitter coffee - as well as music.

"Our Bedouin host - fire roasting some coffee beans"
Photo by Kristin Thompson

In the evening we went to a laser light and music show at Masada. The show was short, but interesting. Upon returning to the Bedouin camp, we had time for some nargila around the fire before retiring to our tent. Many of us had camped numerous times in our lives. That being said, this was probably the least comfortable night of the trip. It was hot and loud. Plus, the camp was overrun by a particularly virulent plague upon the land - not locusts - actually much worse than locusts - Birthrighters. Sadly, not the first time we'd seen them this summer. Ugh.

Makhtesh Ramon

This past Sunday - after leaving Eilat and then touring the Bahad 1 military base - the team arrived in the town of Mitzpe Ramon - the most remote settlement in Israel - on the edge of the Makhtesh Ramon or Ramon Crater. You can go 25 miles in every direction before finding another settlement. The Ramon Crater in a natural crater formed - not from a meteor - but rather from erosion over thousands of years. In many respects the area reminded me of the Southwestern United States - and in particular the Grand Canyon. Very, very beautiful!

"Our jeep tour guide discusses the history of the crater"
Photo by Kristin Thompson

Monday was a lazy morning. After a few early mornings over the previous week, we slept in bit. Our first activity of the day was rappelling along the side of the Ramon Crater. For those that had never rappelled it was fairly cool - while for the old hands (myself included) it was a little anticlimactic. No matter, it was still a lot of fun. After that a few of us took a brief hike back to the hotel. Along the way we saw some Nubian ibex, which was pretty cool!

"The lead jeep passes around the next bend"
Photo by Brad Husser

Later in the afternoon, we had a two hour tour of the crater. Driving in two beat-to-hell - but ridiculously awesome - Land Rovers, the group was taken all around the crater - seeing various geological and historical sites. At one point we stopped to see Khan Saharonim - which are the remains of a Nabatean way station used on the Incense Route from Petra to Gaza over 2,000 years ago. in another instance, we walked a dry river that only flows for 1-2 months per year. Our guide showed us that water can be found right under the surface.

"The 2,000 year old remains of a Nabatean way station"
Photo by Kelley Harris

In the evening, a few people went to star gaze up an overlook of the crater. Altogether, the Makhtesh Ramon is definitely one of the coolest natural geological sites I've ever visited.
The views expressed on this site are those of Daniel Branscome, hereafter referred to as "the owner", and do not necessarily represent those of the University of Maryland, the Robert H. Smith School of Business, or the Technion. All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The owner makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this blog or found by following any link on this blog. The owner will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.