GUEST VOICE: How Technion will help me reach outer space

I want to be an astronaut. That’s not an ambition that comes true for many of us. Only 11 Canadians have been to space, and only two of them have been women.

The next step on my journey to join them took me to Israel this past summer.

As a space engineering student at York University’s new Lassonde School of Engineering, I had the opportunity to spend three weeks at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

It’s one of the best global universities for engineering and technology. It’s also one of the world’s top 10 entrepreneurial ecosystems surrounded by start-ups, high-tech firms and new ideas to solve big problems. I now know why they call Israel the start-up nation.

With 20 of my fellow students from the Lassonde School of Engineering, I embarked on a specially designed intensive entrepreneurship training program. We were based at Technion in Haifa and toured the country to visit start-ups in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Herzliya. Along the way, we saw much more of Israel and immersed ourselves in a society that many of us read about in the newspapers, but too few of us get to experience first-hand.

Before I departed for Israel for my first visit to the country, family and friends asked me questions about why I was going. First, why does a future astronaut want to study entrepreneurship? Second, what can you learn in Israel that you can’t learn in Canada?

The truth is that becoming an astronaut nowadays means having an entrepreneurial mindset as well as excelling in your chosen technical field. 

Government budgets for space missions are a fraction of what they used to be, and the end of the U.S. space shuttle program means how get to space has changed forever. It’s no longer about being the first, it’s about finding the cheapest, most efficient and most profitable ways to leave Earth’s atmosphere.

The future of space travel belongs to creative and daring entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson, who has created Virgin Galactic, which will soon send private citizens into space, or start-ups like SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk and led by Gwynne Shotwell. As well, Canadian technology firms such as Optech are leading the industry and creating advances in space exploration.

These visionary entrepreneurs will propel us to new frontiers, not governments or state-run space agencies.

I want to be at the forefront of this new age of space travel, in which technology, innovative spacecraft and economical fuel systems make space travel a reality, not just for 11 Canadians, but for 1,100 or 11,000 Canadians in my lifetime.

I first caught the entrepreneurial bug taking a unique course at the Lassonde School of Engineering last semester. Engineers at Lassonde don’t just take traditional subjects, we also take entrepreneurship and business classes taught by professors at the Schulich School of Business, as well as intellectual property courses at Osgoode Hall Law School.

I spent the first part of the summer interning at ventureLAB in Markham, a local start-up accelerator, where I gained learned about the start-up community in the GTA and the processes involved with creating a business and the various resources available. 

The entrepreneurship program at Technion was the ideal next step. We didn’t just learn from Israeli entrepreneurs, we worked in groups to create our own start-ups with guidance from Technion professors and mentoring from entrepreneurs who know how to start a business.

And to answer the second question, why go all the way to Israel to learn about entrepreneurship? Because it’s one of the world’s most entrepreneurial societies, with Technion providing the brains and the ideas that are driving the tech sector. Going there let me find out for myself not just by learning from entrepreneurs themselves, but by seeing the society and meeting people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, religions and points of view.

The Technion program gave me the opportunity to grow as an aspiring entrepreneur, as well as to grow as a person with new perspectives on life and new experiences to fuel my ambitions on this planet, and beyond.