Target Global is proud to be a partner of PICO Kids, a unique program founded by Elie Wurtman, one of the leading pioneers of the Israeli tech scene. Over the past two decades, Elie has enjoyed great success as a serial entrepreneur, company builder, and most recently, founder of venture firm PICO Venture Partners. Notably, he was co-founder and CEO of Deltathree, Jerusalem’s first unicorn where he led the company from its founding to 60 points of presence globally with operations in 35 countries.
As part of his passion for philanthropy, Elie founded PICO Kids in 2012 with a mission to enrich and strengthen STEEM education (Science Technology Engineering Entrepreneurship & Math) in Jerusalem, using creative and experiential learning both in schools and in after-school programs. Over the past decade, PICO KIDS has grown from 12 students to operations in 60 schools throughout Jerusalem, with over 4,000 kids enrolled in PICO Kids programs.
Target’s Founder and Executive Chairman, Shmuel Chafets has been a longtime friend of Elie and recently sat down with him ahead of the PICO Kids Ambassadors second mission to Dubai this past June. Throughout the mission, the young Ambassadors spent a week visiting leading innovation centers in Dubai, and meeting with top business and social leaders who shared their insights on creating socially responsible businesses and promoting mission-driven values. Our Head of Corporate Development, Peter Roos, gave an inspiring speech to the second cohort of Ambassadors on the important lessons he learned hailing from a family of brave entrepreneurs and how those values have carried into his work at Target Global.
Below is a snapshot of Shmuel’s conversation with Elie about how to live a life of meaning and why kids are so critical to this mission.
1) What inspired you to create PICO Kids?
PICO Kids was founded with the underlying belief that all children are agents of change with tremendous abilities. When given the right knowledge set and creative learning opportunities, our youth can lead us toward a brighter and better future. The founding of PICO Kids was inspired by my son following an encounter with one of the founders of Waze, one of Israel’s most well-known exits. After the meeting, my son told me that he can learn everything he needs to know for his professional career from the founders of tech companies who can teach him real-life skills. On the heels of that conversation, PICO Kids was born. With headquarters at the PICO Makerspace in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood, today PICO Kids is working with over 4,000 students across 60 Jerusalem schools.
2) Can you tell us a bit more about the PICO Kids Ambassadors Program and what the inspiration was behind it? How do you work with partners like Target Global on making your vision a reality?
The PICO Kids Ambassadors program is a highly selective program for international learning exchanges. Students participate in an intense preparatory seminar in Israel followed by a week-long Makeathon abroad. The Ambassadors program builds global bridges by emphasizing diverse teamwork, problem-solving, and leadership through representation of Israel abroad.
Pre-Covid, PICO Kids Ambassadors traveled from Israel to Shanghai and Hong Kong. On the heels of the Abraham Accords, and as part of our efforts to encourage new forms of collaboration and forge new global friendships, we are now focusing our efforts on exchange programs between Israel and the Gulf region. This June, we brought our second delegation of youth from Jerusalem to the UAE. We are incredibly grateful to Target Global and our other partners for helping to make our vision a reality.
3) A lot of the PICO Kids curriculum is focused on equipping young minds with 21st century skills. What do you think these skills include?
At PICO Kids, we build on a combination of empathy-centric 21st century skills development, STEEM education, immersive peak learning events and transformational experiences that inspire, empower, and drive students to take action. The PICO Kids curriculum is embedded with Stanford University’s design thinking methodology, helping children develop their creative abilities and ideas, and implemented around core themes related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This methodology works based on a four-stage model: Empathize / Define / Ideate / Prototype. Working with this method, children embark on an immersive journey to open their minds and hearts, explore, create and think big.
4) What role do you think exposure pluralism and diversity plays in fostering an entrepreneurial and innovative environment?
Based on the belief that all kids are equally deserving of a quality education, our kids come from vastly differing economic, social, and religious groups. PICO Kids operates in both in-school and after-school settings, across Jerusalem schools and cultural landmarks. In addition to running our own programs, PICO serves as a platform to further the impact of organizations that share our mission. We provide mentorship, board governance, co-working space, programmatic collaboration, and organizational capacity building. Our Makerspace serves as a unique platform for our partners to host their own peak activities. The privilege that we have bringing people of diverse backgrounds together is the cornerstone of our work and a driving force behind the entrepreneurial and creative ecosystem that we are building.
5) One of the phrases you are best known for is that “the future belongs to those who can dream and envision.” What’s your recipe for being optimistic and forward-looking and what advice do you have for people who are worried about all the uncertainty in the world today?
I am an optimist by nature. When I visited the UAE for the first time, I was captivated by the country’s positive culture in which everything is possible, and the existence of the Ministry of Possibilities. Under the token of “nothing is impossible,” the ministry brings together teams from the government and private sector, and encourages them to apply design-thinking methodology to find disruptive solutions for the world’s most imminent challenges. There is a lot of uncertainty in our world today, but I believe that when we invest in our youth, we have the power to define the future as we wish it to be.
6) Your connection to Jerusalem plays an important role at PICO Kids. Can you explain its significance in your work?
My primary focus is the city of Jerusalem and the inhabitants of the city, which in my mind is the most diverse in the world. Jerusalem is a microcosm of every background of every ethnicity and belief, all in one place. I believe that anything that we can solve in Jerusalem, any experience we can facilitate that creates a sense of togetherness, can be a model for the whole world. We have a simple philosophy: everybody has a seat at the table for a better future. Each and every one of us is imbued with a tremendous sense of creativity and imagination, and we all share the same challenges. Our values-based framework shows children how to be problem- solvers who see challenges first and foremost as opportunities. We cultivate a sense of wonder, intrinsic drive to learn, and propensity for action. This is the PICO recipe for significance and success.