Below are five questions and answers with Ilana Golan, a successful entrepreneur and mentor who has made it her life’s work to inspire start-up founders and students alike to pursue their dreams without a fear of failure.
In many ways, Ilana Golan is a pioneer. She began her career as the first female commander of training and personnel for F-16 pilots in the Israel Air Force, and then founded several successful technology companies in San Francisco and Israel. Ilana Golan now works with emerging Israeli start-ups in Silicon Valley, helping them to deliver products that are in demand and scalable in the United States. She is frequently a keynote speaker and mentor for some of the largest accelerators in the world. She is also a mentor for the IAC Eitanim program, where she works with Israeli-American and Jewish American high school students, and she will be a featured speaker at the IAC National Conference in November.
How did your time in the Israel Air Force shape your approach to running a business?
One of my most critical takeaways from the Air Force, which I’ve now adopted in all of my professional and personal decisions, is that de-briefing is critical. What I mean by that is that at each step, and especially after each failure, you should ask yourself, “How did this go for me? Is this the right direction for me to be going in?” If it’s not, it’s important to ask yourself what you’d like to do instead. In this way, you can think of each step as a small trial phase, and constantly work to improve yourself – either personally or professionally.
What’s the most important advice you offer to companies that seek your help?
Whether I’m speaking with high school students starting to plan their future or CEOs of start-up firms looking for new investors, my message is the same: know your audience and don’t be afraid to fail. Knowing your audience is really key – what do they care about? What problem are you solving for them? How can you inspire them? Once you understand who is in front of you, you are then free to experiment. Try different solutions and see what effect they have. Some of those experiments will fail in the end, and that is okay.
How did you get connected to the Israeli-American community in San Francisco?
I really only plugged into the Israeli-American community recently, but once I found the IAC Eitanim program I knew it was something I had to be involved in. IAC Eitanim is such an important way to give middle school and high school students a sense of leadership and to teach them to trust in their own abilities. When I talk about entrepreneurship, I also help students to understand what it takes to go from an idea to a product with a business model, a marketing plan, and a pitch story. I think it’s important for Jewish and Israeli-American students to also see role models and find mentors as they navigate through life, and IAC Eitanim provides them with that.
What do you see as the future of the Israeli-American and Jewish American relationship?
I would love to see that relationship continue to strengthen and grow. I think we have so much to offer each other and, as an entrepreneur, I see the potential for so many innovative business opportunities from connecting the two communities. I’m connected to an organization (Hom Run Group) that helps innovative Israeli companies sell their products abroad by connecting them to a network of Israeli supporters who can introduce them to investors, and work with them to fine tune their pitches. I would love to see a similar mutual support system between Israeli-Americans and Jewish Americans.
I imagine you keep pretty busy with work. What do you do for fun?
I love traveling to different parts of the world with my husband and our two children. I think travel gives our children a wonderful opportunity to see how other cultures and societies live, and give them a broader perspective. Some of my favorite places to travel include Nepal, Morocco, Myanmar, Indonesia, Ecuador, Italy, and, of course, Israel!
This blog is part two in a series featuring speakers at the Israeli-American Council’s National Conference in Washington, DC.