Summer in the Startup Nation: Be Many People

Sarah Zweifach is an MD candidate at NYU School of Medicine and has dedicated her professional life to driving better health outcomes by bridging the gap between medicine and technology. She spent this summer in Israel—an international hotbed for startups. In this 3-part blog series, Sarah shares her insights on how Israel has become a preeminent leader in the startup world and also reflects upon how future entrepreneurs at NYU and beyond, might learn from this small country’s success stories.

Summer in the Startup Nation: Be Many People

In an age where new job titles and even industries (i.e. driverless automobiles) themselves emerge daily, consistently advertised over social media, it is often difficult not to doubt one’s chosen path. At almost every coffee or drink I grab with a friend we can’t help but question if our current job will prepare us for the rapidly changing job market. Is it better to be an expert in one field? Or knowledgeable in multiple fields? Maybe I won’t ever know the answer, but I was determined to explore this question during this summer between my first and second year at NYU medical school.

I am not your typical MD candidate. Rather than go straight to medical school after college (time-wise, definitively NOT the best decision), I chose to work in healthcare technology for 3 years. I want to be a physician who bridges the gap between medicine and tech, which is not a clear or widely accepted path in the clinical world. The majority of my classmates spent their summers to perform clinical research, with the future goal of getting published in a highly acclaimed medical journal.

I wanted to go to another country. To be exposed to the unfamiliar. I wanted to learn about clinical innovation, but also gain some perspective about other entrepreneurial disciplines. I chose to go to Israel—the "startup nation."

I found a program at Hebrew University in Jerusalem called Transdisciplinary Innovation Program (TIP). My first thought was probably the same as yours—how can a program with so many buzz words be legitimate? But it was in the "startup nation"--- a country that despite its constant state of war and lack of natural resources is second only to Silicon Valley in tech startups. So, I threw my doubts to the wind and bought my plane ticket.

Out of a class of twenty, I was the only American. The other fellows came from Panama, Mexico, Russia, Brazil, China, India, and of course-Israel. We had a couple of engineers, a plant biologist, physicists, a journalist, investment bankers…the list goes on. Very few people came in with a similar background which was incredibly exciting, but at the same time posed a huge challenge for the instructors. Each day of each week was dedicated to a different discipline…Sunday-Entrepreneurship, Monday-Bioengineering, Tuesday- Cybersecurity. With such a diverse group of fellows, I was skeptical as to how they’d be able to cater to both novices and experts in each field.

TIP’s director, Elishai Ezra Tsur, welcomed us and began not with an introduction to the course, but rather with his personal story. He had trained in Electrical Engineering, Life Sciences, History, Philosophy, and Bioengineering…and he had never found the perfect fit. He was not just an academic. He was a scuba instructor, a motor cyclist, a father. His message was clear and simple. And it may have been exactly the answer I was looking for “and you, Marcus, have given me many things; now I shall give you this good adviceBe many people. Give up the game of being always Marcus Cocoza. You have worried too much about Marcus Cocoza, so that you have been really his slave and prisoner. You have not done anything without first considering how it would affect Marcus Cocoza's happiness and prestige. You were always much afraid that Marcus might do a stupid thing, or be bored. What would it really have mattered? All over the world people are doing stupid things... I should like you to be easy, your little heart to be light again. You must from now, be more than one, many people, as many as you can think of."-Karen Blixen, The Dreamers from Seven Gothic Tales (1934)."

Maybe all of the fellows did not have similar skills, homes, or interests, but it maybe it wasn’t crazy to think that our backgrounds did not define us. Maybe being true to yourself is really being true to your many selves?

I was curious to learn whether all Israelis felt this way. I wondered if this transdisciplinary education, or foundational understanding of many different subjects, that Elishai believed so strongly in was a familiar way of learning in this country. I was eager to know if this commitment to being well-rounded and multi-faceted was the reason for the entrepreneurial successes of the ‘startup nation’ or if it was something else entirely.

To be continued…


Author's Bio: Prior to medical school, Sarah worked in a variety of digital health settings, from a life sciences-focused data analytics startup, Zephyr Health, to a seed fund for digital health, Rock Health, and, most recently, one of the largest healthcare corporations, McKesson, doing product marketing for an oncology-specific EMR. Sarah’s work in medical technology, coupled with previous experience in integrative medicine and wellness, reflects her belief that to solve healthcare’s most pressing challenges, multi-disciplinary teamwork and solutions are necessary. Currently, in addition to being a medical student, Sarah advises health tech startups, produces a digital medicine newsletter for Mt. Sinai’s App Lab, and also works closely with physician entrepreneurs to grow the digital health ecosystem at NYU.