When Daniel Rothman traveled to Israel with Birthright, he did not expect that four years later he would be returning for five months in pursuit of networking opportunities. Back then, he had recently finished his degree at Brown University in Cognitive Neuroscience where he created a “smart” alarm clock that woke users during the right stage of sleep so they would wake up feeling better.
He came to Israel thinking he would just have a fun 10 day adventure but at the cemetery of the Kinneret Daniel heard a David Ben-Gurion quote, which stayed with him long after he returned to the US: “I came to this country to transform the land and by doing so, I will transform my soul.”
After moving to California, launching a healthcare information technology company, and earning an MBA at UC Irvine at the Paul Merage School of Business, Daniel decided to fulfill the quote’s message by enrolling in Masa Israel’s Ayalim Innovative Israel program, which supports young adults in becoming activists and innovators. “The program appealed to my business entrepreneurship side and my romantic Zionist soul,” says Daniel.
To assuage his concern that leaving the US for five months might create a gap in his resume, the director of Ayalim promised Daniel a meeting with Maayan Ventures, which runs a chain of government sponsored technology incubators. The meeting went well and Daniel was invited to put his American business background to work by helping to evaluate and later coach companies that were applying to the incubator.
Within weeks, Daniel started applying his experience by created a grading formula to streamline the selection process. One thing that surprised him was that, “Israelis have a reputation for being brutal negotiators but they are so much nicer in investment pitches than Americans.” The hospitality he experienced extended outside of the boardroom and was also somewhat of a shock. “I meet entrepreneurs and venture capitalists and after our meetings they invite me to spend Shabbat with them” he says.
As his network grows, Daniel has been traveling to Tel Aviv more, but is thankful that his home base is in Ashalim, a periphery community in southern Israel. “The desert is good for my soul,” he says. Splitting his time between Tel Aviv and Ashalim, Daniel is helping to transform the land by building houses for students in Ashalim. In another project he is working with his Ayalim peers to build a music venue/bar in Be’er Sheva to bring more culture to the Negev.
“We have the perfect blend of skills,” says Daniel. “One guy knows the bar business, another has experience in marketing, and I am doing the financial modeling.”
Only two months into the program, Daniel is already certain that his time in Israel will be crucial for his future career. “Israel is full of the entrepreneurial spirit—a skill that US companies respect and are struggling to replicate and I know that what I’m doing right now will serve as a springboard for me to find work in US.”
One option that he is considering is that when he returns to America he could serve as the US representative for an Israeli company.
“Ultimately, I want to help bring together Israeli and American companies with their different strengths,” says Daniel. “It’s too bad that Israel isn’t a two hour flight from the US or I would definitely settle here. But because I’m building such a strong network in Israel, I know I’ll stay connected long after I leave.”