Innovative Academic Partnership: Mark Cohen, Owen School

Innovative Academic Partnership: Mark Cohen, Owen School

Above: Vanderbilt’s Mark Cohen says his graduate business students and Israeli startup companies benefit from his exchange program.

Professor Mark Cohen’s students engage in a yearlong study of Israeli business practices, culture and product ideas. At Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, these M.B.A. candidates experience global business by Skype, then by plane.

Each autumn Cohen matches small groups of graduate business students with Israeli companies looking to expand their market, develop partnerships, obtain financing or enhance strategic positioning.

Cohen has a long list of companies — more than his students can serve.

To kick off the course, students read “Start-Up Nation” by Dan Senor and attend guest lectures by Israelis living in Nashville.

Students begin to research. By the spring semester, they engage online with the Israeli companies as consultants, advising how their products or ideas can be marketed in the United States.

“Entrepreneurs are tech innovators, but they don’t know if a product or service has a viable market in the U.S. They need guidance on how it’s priced, as well as gaining channels for direct consumer or industry,” Cohen said.

Cohen, the students and several Vanderbilt staffers then travel to Israel during spring break. Students meet with their client companies and other emerging and established Israeli companies, multinational corporations with Israeli research and development centers, and venture capital firms.

Back on campus in Nashville, the students continue their project work and present recommendations to their client companies via Skype.

This year Conexx’s Eagle Star committee introduced a category to recognize higher education institutions and their support of Israeli companies. The award spotlights U.S.-Israeli collaboration of hands-on student and faculty engagement with a goal to inspire business leadership.

Cohen and the Owen Graduate School of Management are the recipients.

Cohen is committed to familiarizing graduate students with the Start-Up Nation. He believes that the booming health care industry in Nashville, Vanderbilt’s high-caliber students and Israel’s technology companies make the perfect cocktail for success.

“Nashville is a hot town right now. Most people see Nashville as music and great restaurants. But the most valuable asset Nashville has is the health care industry. As the state capital we have a strong basis in government and education, but health care is huge,” he said.

Cohen said Nashville-based hospital management companies manage over 60 percent of the for-profit hospital beds in America. The city is home to companies that focus on community health care systems, data and information technology.

Globally, health care companies with headquarters in Nashville generate more than $70 billion of annual revenue and employ more than 400,000 people.

“Israelis have no idea about Nashville, so I educate them about the number of opportunities in health care here. It is a huge, untapped market for Israeli entrepreneurs,” Cohen said.

To date, more than 75 students and 19 Israeli companies have participated in the exchange program. Some students followed up with independent study work for their client companies, and Israeli entrepreneurs approached Vanderbilt to better understand U.S. markets as they develop their business strategies.

Cohen said the feedback from students is that the experience is the best way to learn about global markets, business in a different culture and behavioral science behind business.

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