UnBox – Breaking Out of Research Restrains
Bar-Ilan University has true faith in its excellent researchers and their ability to solve humanity's most complicated challenges. To that end, BIU has established UnBox Center, providing researchers with a methodic training program and development seed money, while leaving all intellectual property rights at the hands of the entrepreneurs.
UnBox Center is a venue for researchers from all eight of BIU's faculties who, together with external entrepreneurs, aspire to establish groundbreaking ventures. The program follows a very structured "customer development" methodology, formed and successfully implemented in Silicon Valley.
This academically unique initiative, brainchild of Bar-Ilan University President Prof. Arie Zaban, relies on multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary principles and the cultivation of impact culture – the same principles that guide BINA and form its unique advantages.
"Customer development methodology and scientific experimental processes have much in common. That’s the beauty of our program," says Ariel Sella, Head of the program. Sella brings to the table decades of experience in entrepreneurship, start-up initiation and management, and investing in electronics, internet, software, transportation and energy. "Through this program, we create projects that have a global potential, projects that aspire to solve humanity's most complicated challenges. This is achieved by leveraging the scientific forces of excellence from each and every faculty and department at the university, bringing them together and providing them with a unique space for synergy and inspiration."
UnBox Community Director, Sigal Harel-Mor, who specialized in social entrepreneurship, adds: "UnBox ventures aspire to make a positive global impact. Alongside business ventures established at UnBox, there are also social-tech ventures, committed to social and environmental principles. Two social-tech ventures were established by students at UnBox’s first class: MuLTI and OtherReality, both of which created feasible solutions to essential social problems, aiming to improve our society.
UnBox ventures fall into three clusters: transportation-energy-city; health-agriculture-food; and society-governance-law. In recent decades, the majority of breakthroughs and revolutions that changed our realty happened within these three fields and motivated much of world's economic growth.
"Every entrepreneur must ask themselves," says Sella, "'which contemporary changes in the world enable the cultivation of my solution now?' In the early twentieth century, it was electricity; by the mid-twentieth century, it was the transistor; and by its end, the internet. Nowadays and in the next decades, it is the zero marginal cost of data based insights that is the disruptive course."
UnBox's year-long program encourages partnerships between researchers and entrepreneurs in a shared space, without boundaries or hierarchy. The teams find a problem, investigate challenges, opportunities and market needs, design solutions and then set out into the world to validate it with potential global customers. An extensive network of mentors – serial entrepreneurs, angels and seasoned investors – guides the teams throughout the program.
Throughout the entrepreneurial world, 90 percent of the ventures fail, often because the problem at hand is not essential or painful enough. "A venture in its early stages is not some big company with customers, so it is essential for the entrepreneurs to test the hypotheses of which their solution is based on, before putting it into development. They have to approach sample clients in the target market and make sure that the solutions they offer are feasible, economic, practical, and meet regulatory demands. This process of product validation is the most important process these companies will ever undergo," stresses Sella, "with a budget of $25,000 invested by Bar-Ilan University, and an entire set of tools essential for intensive, methodic and well-formed processes, the start-up leaders refute some of the hypotheses, confirm others, and in most cases, come up with new ones. At the end of the process, they will be more focused and have solid connections in the global market."
UnBox's first class was comprised of 60 BIU scientists, doctoral students, and research fellows alongside entrepreneurs who work outside the university. The class birthed eight promising ventures. Even those who will not eventually establish their own project acquired entrepreneurship thinking tools and network associations of both research peers and skilled entrepreneurs.