Start-ups brew at American University



November 15, 2017

Photos by Lily Coltoff

A group of college students huddled around a coffee machine–an unsurprising sight considering college students’ caffeine habits.

But this was no ordinary coffee machine: Instead of merely dispensing coffee, it brews up cappuccino with designs printed ON the drink–everything from sports team logos to tiny adorable illustrations of puppies and kittens.

This exhibition by Ripples, an Israeli company specializing in coffee “printers,” was just one of the many attractions at the Start-Up Nation Tech Fair which took place at American University Nov. 7.

This event, which drew nine Israeli companies and more than 100 students to the Mary Graydon Center, was sponsored by a broad coalition of campus groups, including American University Hillel, TAMID at American University, American University Center for Israel Studies and the AU Center for Innovation, among others.

The message: Israel may once have been known as the Land of Milk and Honey, but today it is the Start-up Nation.

In Israel, “everybody knows someone who’s in a start-up or was in a start-up or who’s in an exit,” said Professor Erran Carmel, who teaches information technology at American and served as the moderator for a panel discussion during the fair.

As Yuval Arbel, one of the panelists, noted early in the panel, one only needs a smartphone and an idea to create their own start-up.

Arbel, the founder of Buy for Good, a company that serves as an online seller of “social impact products” made by disabled and underprivileged individuals in Israel, added, “we are living in the greatest time for entrepreneurs, ever. You can find online information for anything and…whatever you were lacking in knowledge you can find ways to learn.”

During the panel, other Israeli entrepreneurs, including Stephen Shapiro, an executive at eHealth Ventures, and Lital Helman, co-founder and CEO of GradTrain, offered advice on getting involved with start-ups and shared lessons based on their own experiences, including just what potential employers and business partners really mean by “let’s grab lunch sometime.” (Answer: They’re just not that into you.)

Gabrielle Michel, a Jewish sophomore studying psychology, was grateful for the chance to learn and network, “I’m really interested in start-ups and entrepreneurships and technology, and I really love Israel.” Added Michel, “I want to do an internship in a start-up company in Israel this upcoming summer, so I came here to check out some of these companies.”

Jewish students weren’t the only ones taking advantage of the fair.

“I saw on the Facebook event that there would be a machine here where you could print your face on a cup of coffee, and I just found that so cool that I absolutely had to check it out,” said Nathan Austin Allen, a junior majoring in International Relations and Economics. “I’m so glad I came, though. Everything here is so interesting and it’s just a great time.”

Max Elton, a sophomore member of TAMID who served as the co-committee chair for this tech fair, said that based on responses like Allen’s, “I’m excited to bring it back hopefully next year.”

–Lily Coltoff