What makes an innovator?
Can innovation be taught? Why do so many startups originate in Tel Aviv? Attend the TAU Innovation Conference to find out
What does it take to be innovative in today's world? Large companies like Apple introduce new products that claim to revolutionize the tech market every few months, like clockwork. What does it take to become a success, to have an idea that's not only original but feasible and popular?
This year's TAU Innovation Conference aims to find out. Taking place between 7th and 9th of May, this year's conference hopes to surpass last year's crowd of 7,000 attendees, including industry leaders, diplomats, entrepreneurs and investors.
Now in its fourth year, the conference has been able to attract executives from major internet companies like YouTube, Yelp, Airbnb and Prezi, a website that specializes in online presentations.
We asked Prezi's Director of Product, Kálmán Kéménczy, what he thinks the role of academics should be in fostering innovation and giving future entrepreneurs the right tools. Could something as unpredictable as innovation even be taught?
"In my personal opinion," Mr. Kéménczy said, "I think universities these days have a huge responsibility. Our economy, technology, our whole lives are constantly changing, so it's hard to teach material because things become irrelevant so quickly. Which is why it's important to teach tools and ways of thinking that will help a person evolve now in and the future. The most important thing students need to keep learning."
Keep pushing forward
Although the TAU Innovation Conference has proved popular in previous years, in keeping with the spirit of innovation the organizers are constantly looking for the next big idea to push the event forward.
This year it's a competition called the TLV Startup Challenge. Dan Balter, VP of TAU's entrepreneurship center StarTAU and one of the organizers of the event, believes every year is an opportunity to do something new and exciting that hasn't been done before. "We're very proud to be organizing the largest global start-up competition in Israel this year. It's going to have eight different categories, and the ultimate winner will get a trip to Silicon Valley."
StarTAU's Community Manager, Natan Leibzon also believes a university in particular has a responsibility to push for constant innovation. "Academic institutions have to give students the most important tools: creative thinking, risk taking, perseverance. That's why it's so essential that TAU has a center that's responsible for innovation and entrepreneurship. A university without this focus is missing out on preparing its students for the outside world."
The TAU community
In some ways, it's not surprising that a major conference in innovation is taking place in Tel Aviv and at TAU specifically. In 2015 TAU was ranked 9th in in the world for undergraduate programs that produced the most startup founders, and first outside of the United States. In 2017, a different survey found TAU ranks eighth in the world among institutions that have produced "unicorns" – a slang term for startup firms worth more than $1 billion.
Prezi's Mr. Kéménczy thinks part of it has to do with the environment fostered by city of Tel Aviv itself. "To have a vibrant startup scene you usually need a lot of young people with lots of motivation, lots of knowledge available, a liberal attitude that gives you access to a variety of things, a good economy. If a place is open and multicultural, people from around the world will be happy to come and build teams together, which is what makes startups flourish."
This year's Conference aims to be as open as possible to the larger TAU community, precisely in order to foster this kind of diversity.
TAU students who buy tickets to the Conference will enjoy over 70% off the ticket price (using the code TAUStudents2017), while TAU graduates will get a 50% discount (using the code TAUICALUMNI17). Additionally, the Rothschild Tech Talks, taking place on the first day of the conference, will be open to everyone and anyone who wants to attend.