- September 9, 2020
When Sandra Kauanui founded what has developed into the Institute of Entrepreneurship at Florida Gulf Coast University, her goal was for the program to serve as a catalyst for entrepreneurship in Southwest Florida.
She would have never imagined two years later she would find herself traveling to Israel with Gov. Ron DeSantis and signing a memorandum of understanding for an exchange and collaboration partnership with Tel Aviv University.
Kauanui, affectionately known around campus and beyond as Dr. K., was part of a six-day, 100-member trade mission delegation with Enterprise Florida. Her own mission was to meet with her peers at Tel Aviv University, the largest public university in Israel, to develop a collaboration that would be mutually beneficial to the students and faculty of both schools.
She returned from the trip ready to get started.
“I want to put a program together for next summer,” Kauanui tells Coffee Talk. “It's great to sign MOUs, but you have to get them implemented.”
Kauanui calls Israel a “startup country” whose citizens have developed a spirit of entrepreneurship out of dire necessity, by demonstrating an inventive spirit needed for a small country of 7.1 million people, few natural resources and covered by 50% desert to survive. Her goal is for the program to bring together future entrepreneurs diverse in culture but united by ambition.
The five-year MOU calls for the two universities to cooperate in the exchange of scholarship plans of mutual interest, pursue faculty and student exchange programs, seek exchanges of cultural and artistic activities, collaborate on cooperative research and hold joint academic seminars. The arrangement is unrelated to the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator, based in Tampa.
Starting from scratch, Kauanui has built the School of Entrepreneurship at FGCU from a few elective courses to a full interdisciplinary degree program with more than 450 students working toward a major. The school operates an incubator where students can work toward starting their own businesses — several of which have been launched — prior to and even after graduation.
This collaboration will provide FGCU students who travel to Israel with a broader world view and will expose them to different entrepreneurial approaches, and vice-versa. When Tel Aviv students come here, Kauanui says, they will gain exposure to local venture capital opportunities.
“Being able to have our students work together with some potential for some joint venture capital opportunities will benefit everyone involved,” Kauanui says. “But more than that, they will share intellectual capital with someone who has a different way to approach innovation.”