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U of M students take expertise to Israel: Marketing class goes hands-on

Twenty-one-year old business student Krystin Houston has never set foot in an overseas land but that's about to change.

Houston is one of 11 third-year business students from the University of Manitoba who will be flying to Israel later this month as part of a student exchange program that will see them spend about 10 days in the Middle Eastern country and nine business students from Ben-Gurion University in Tel Aviv spend about the same amount of time here.
The exchange

The Arni C. Thorsteinson Exchange Program:

What is it? A month-long student exchange program involving third-year business students from the University of Manitoba and Ben-Gurion University in Israel.

What are the goals? To encourage business students to think globally; to provide them with an opportunity to interact with business students and business leaders from both countries; to give them hands-on experience at developing a marketing plan for introducing a new product or business into each market; and to expand their knowledge of the cultural and political history of the two countries.

How does it work? The intense, month-long program involves between 16 and 20 students splitting into groups of four, picking an existing business and developing a marketing plan for how they would introduce that business into a foreign market -- in this case its Canadian businesses into Israel and Israeli businesses into Canada. In the course of developing their marketing plans, they meet with local business and trade officials in both countries to learn some of the ins and outs of doing business in each country. They then finalize their plans and formally present them to a panel of experts. This year, the program begins in Winnipeg and ends in Israel but in some years it's been the other way around.

Who sponsors it? Named after prominent Winnipeg businessman Arni Thorsteinson, the program is largely funded by U of M alumnus and Toronto businessman Gerald Schwartz.

It's all part of the Arni C. Thorsteinson Exchange Program, a seven-year-old U of M initiative the goal of which is to get business students interested in international trade and give them some hands-on experience in how it works by meeting with business experts in both countries and jointly developing marketing plans for how they would introduce a new business to each country.

"Canada is a global trading partner, so you have to know what it takes to get your product into another country," said Rob Warren, executive director of the U of M's Stu Clark Centre for Entrepreneurship. "I think this (the exchange program) is a good example of what the university is doing to build the next generation of business leaders."

In addition to teaching them some of the ins and outs of international trade, Warren said the program is also designed to expand their knowledge about the culture and political history of Canada and Israel by having the students spend roughly 10 days in each country.

"And the only way you can really experience culture is to live it," he added.

Houston said she can't wait to arrive in Israel on Aug. 17.

"I've never been overseas, so this is a huge deal," she said in an interview Wednesday following a tour of the manufacturing plant for Controlled Environments Ltd. (Conviron), a local firm that exports its products -- controlled environment chambers for plant-growth research -- to about 90 countries, including Israel.

Conviron president and CEO Steven Kroft told the exchange students while there are challenges associated with global trading, the payoffs can be huge.

"It (the world) is just such a massive market. The opportunities are really endless, and when one market is down, another will be up," he said. "And it's a great opportunity to see the world and to get an understanding of other countries. I love it for that alone."

Houston said she's already gained a wealth of knowledge about Israel and its culture just through her dealings with the Israeli exchange students. Sahar Shbiro said it's the same for him and his fellow Israelis.

"Working with the Canadian students we've already learned a lot (about Canada)," the 26-year-old said.

The team Houston is on is putting together a plan for how it would introduce Canadian athletic-clothing retailer LuluLemon to the Israeli market. And Shbiro's team is developing a plan for how it would introduce the Delta Hotels chain.

"We're looking to see what adjustments we would have to make for it to be successful (in Israel)," he said.

Warren said the students will be meeting with officials with three business organizations in Winnipeg and five in Toronto as part of the Canadian portion of the program. The other two local groups are the Winnipeg Airports Authority and CentrePort Canada.