Understanding Through Entrepreneurship
A professor hopes that a course for Israeli and Palestinian students will teach more than how to start and run a business.
By Donna Coco
Boating. We have a home on the water in New Seabury, Cape Cod. I love boating. I’ve been a boater for 40 years.
Place you want to visit
My wife and I want to go to Tuscany.
Favorite tech gadget
My computer. I’ve been involved with computers since the late ’60s.
How you relax
I read. I like mystery novels. I watch TV.
Favorite TV show
Right now, Blue Bloods.
Ted Grossman offers business advice to Israeli and Palestinian students from the program. Photograph by Webb Chappell
‘‘Hang on one second,” says Ted Grossman, senior lecturer in information systems, as he rises to answer a knock on his office door. A student delivers a brown bag, in which sits an alarm clock. Apparently, one of the Palestinian students in Grossman’s program, “Bridging the Cultural Divide Through Entrepreneurship,” hasn’t been attending classes in the morning.
Why? “Because he doesn’t have an alarm clock,” says Grossman. “So I said to him, ‘OK, here’s what we’re going to do. You’re not stupid. You’re very bright. But you’re also very foolish, because you’re missing an opportunity. So here’s the deal. I will buy you an alarm clock. I will have it for you this afternoon. If you continue missing classes, you’re on the next plane back to Israel.’”
What opportunities would the student miss? The chance to study entrepreneurship and business for seven weeks on Babson’s campus in a course modeled after “Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship” (FME). The chance to collaborate in classes, room in dorms, and go on weekend outings with an uncommon group of students comprised of seven Israeli Arabs, 17 Israeli Jews, and 20 Palestinians. The chance to launch and run a business for 16 weeks in Israel with seed money, mentoring, and support from Babson. The next morning, the student showed up on time.
From conceiving and developing the program to raising hundreds of thousands in funds to making sure students attend classes, Grossman has devoted countless hours to realizing this course on entrepreneurship and understanding. Ask him why, and he talks around the question. The 2000 movie Remember the Titans, about how a racially divided football team came together to work toward a common goal, provided inspiration. So did a summer camp, Seeds of Peace, that brings together Israeli and Palestinian youths. These touch the surface.
But listening to Grossman tell stories of his travels to Israel and Palestine, which he weaves with bits on the history of the region and its conflicts, one can tell his passions run deeper. “I have listened to narratives on both sides of the border,” says Grossman. “They have both victimized each other. And I’m not trying to be political by any means. I’m just saying that I’ve learned to appreciate both dialogues.”
Grossman hopes that by bringing students together with the intent of creating successful businesses, they may learn not only about such topics as finance and marketing but also about each other. “We’re saying to them you have a common goal, which is to start and run a business. You have to put aside your cultural differences. You have to learn from each other. You have to recognize each of your strengths and weaknesses,” he says. “The Israelis have a market. The Palestinians have a market. Together, you have a much larger market. You need to come together to be able to exploit that opportunity.”
A look at Grossman’s work history shows a personal eye for spotting and creating opportunities. He started his career as a field engineer for the U.S. Navy building nuclear submarines and then moved to Honeywell, where he helped develop an infrared night sight for an M16 rifle to be used in the Vietnam War. At the same time, he earned his master’s degree in business. Knowing the computer industry was the next place to be, he switched careers and then founded TRG, a software and processing company focused on the retail industry. Eleven years later he sold the company, and after completing a four-year contract with TRG, came to Babson. “I came here in 1985,” he says, “and I forgot to leave.”
A love for working with students and Babson’s collegial atmosphere have kept him here. But he hasn’t slowed down. In addition to teaching undergrads and grads, he developed a project-based course on information systems and helped create FME. He also crafted the course “High-Tech Entrepreneurship.” Then there are his other projects. He still consults to the retail industry. He has been an expert witness for more than 20 years, contributing to cases that involve high-tech companies. And he’s working on a startup.
Clearly, Grossman likes challenges. To run a program like “Bridging the Cultural Divide,” he has to. Simply getting students to Babson posed problems. The group was flying out on a Saturday night, but by Wednesday of that week, seven Palestinian students still had not received their visas. Five visas came Thursday. One came Saturday afternoon. The last came two days later, so the student flew solo. Dietary concerns were an issue for some students. Finding lawyers who understand Israeli and Palestinian law to teach a unit on business law proved difficult. Raising funds has been no easy task, and Grossman wants to continue the program for two more years.
Then there’s the fact that Palestinians have a boycott on cooperating with Israelis. “While many of these students want to work with the Israelis,” says Grossman, “they’re concerned about when they go home—will they be viewed as collaborators?”
Whether the students can rise above their differences and work together toward the success of their businesses (inexpensive clip-ons for sunglasses and a stun ring disguised as costume jewelry) remains to be seen. They will present their results in January at the Peres Center for Peace in Israel. What Grossman hopes is that the trait these students share—an entrepreneurial spirit—will propel them forward. “They have what I call a fire in their belly,” he says. “The beginnings of entrepreneurship is recognizing opportunities, being creative and innovative, and exploiting those opportunities. They have to come together to exploit those opportunities.”
But Grossman doesn’t expect miracles. “You can’t solve 63 years of conflict overnight,” he says flatly. “It’s happening. And it will happen organically.”
Editor’s Note: With great admiration and heartfelt sadness, we dedicate this story to the memory of Ted Grossman, who passed away this September.