THE BLOG
07/11/2014 03:44 pm ET Updated Sep 10, 2014

Excitement, Innovation: What I Learned, Experienced And Saw During A Recent Trip to One Of Israel's Top Universities

The Ben Gurion University of The Negev was founded by Israel's first prime minister in 1969, who believed a 'youth bold in spirit and inspired by creative heroism, by scientists liberated by the bonds of conventional thought,' held the future to developing the region. It's not a surprise that this same spirit and belief in innovation and science continues to be the cornerstone of the University to this day. It was the exact air and excitement that I experienced as I toured the campus while attending the 44th Board of Governors ceremony this Spring. What I learned, and brought back from the journey, is a reminder of the power and passion of innovation and science -- both here in the U.S. and around the world.

Aside of the beautiful campus with almost manicured landscaping, palm trees, state of the art facilities, and modern architecture, it's the enthusiasm and pride in the work of the students that first captures and captivates. With often very small budgets, they've been able to achieve so many great things. An example is the mechanical engineering students, who each year build a racing car which then competes at Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) against cars sponsored from some of the most successful corporations in the world, such as BMW. In 2013, they landed in 14th place out of a some 47 other vehicles. The students take no weekends, work long days and that's along with their full school workload to build the winning car. They beam with pride of their achievements, pride for themselves and BGU, yet are so grateful for the opportunity, humble, curious and ambitious. That passion and honest commitment to innovation, relentless drive and lack of vanity sits in the labs and facilities of so many universities around the globe and it never fails to inspire or invigorate in its presence.

As we walked through the halls, computer science students worked on state of the art ways of malware detection, fault-tolerant systems, cryptographic protocols, secure storage, data mining and so much more. This is done without MacBooks, and often with shared hardware and other resources. Yet rather than complaining or parents petitioning the school, they're enthusiastic to be on the cutting edge of research and to work on something that matters, something that may be for the benefit of a better world. The energy and excitement crackles throughout the campus. Years after my own time in school, at Berkeley, and building technologies as a professional in the business world, it was impossible not to feel the same about all that is possible with technology and innovation.

Similar to so many Israeli young adults, most BGU students have served in the country's army before starting college, and know all too well both the price of war, so the value of pace and the ability to study is not taken lightly. Some have immigrated from other countries, some leaving their families behind in places like Russia or even America to attend BGU. The same light appeared in the eyes of students in economics and history, agriculture and desert studies. We met with professors and students leading research on everything from water purification to oenology and nutrition. Student housing was built in such a way that it needs no heating or air conditioning, designed to preserve the desert heat of the day and the evening cold of the night to regulate temperatures in the building. It's in part achieved by double wide window frames that shield the sun on one side while letting the heat accumulate between frames. It was nothing short of awesome to witness these innovations and the ingenuity that takes place in the work of the students there.

Our time on the campus included visits and lectures from some of Israel's most celebrated and talented minds, musicians, and luminaries. It included current President Shimon Perez, and a Russian classical pianist, Evgeny Kissin, who played piano for us, and one of the most touching and moving ceremonies honoring the 44th Board of Governors. It was an awesome experience, this unique oasis in the desert, that carried such a pioneering and passionate spirit. It wasn't just on the BGU campus that this could be felt, but in many ways throughout the country as a whole. The country is currently seeing a boom in new areas of its business market, including a growing wine and food industry, and technology business innovation. It is really quite exciting.

Returning to the U.S., where we can sometimes feel isolated in our own technology boom of funding deals and exits, my trip to Ben Gurion University was an awesome reminder that we all carry this spark of curiosity in ourselves that is reflected in our work no matter what stage of our career we are in or what part of the world we're innovating in. After my 20 plus years in business, founding companies and creating technology products, successes and some failures, this experience prompted me to glance back with much fondness my humble beginnings in the CS department at UC Berkeley, and the intense preparation that fueled my career. These students, and their wide-eyed excitement of not just envisioning what's possible but creating it together, were such a breathe of fresh air. If you're ever in need of inspiration, a reignitement of your passion or just to get back into the crackling energy of a hungry, engaged mind, I would highly encourage you to visit a university or college campus here or around the world.

Read more about business innovation, leadership and more on Kira's blog at www.kiramakagon.com