Incubator Blogs: NEXUS Mentor Tamir Huberman: "Anything is possible when you are fully committed"

With over two decades of experience in the world of innovation, NEXUS mentor Huberman has seen it all, and is now giving back by sharing his wisdom with the next generation of promising innovators.

Hello, and welcome to yet another part of our series of blog posts introducing the mentors behind our incubator programmes. This post was made to promote the second call for the University of Helsinki's NEXUS incubator programme, which focuses on Deep Tech, AI and sustainability. Today, we're chatting with Tamir Huberman.

Be sure to check out our other interviews with Satu ApukkaSam Laakkonen, and Michael Vormittag.

We've sat down with our mentors to discuss their own paths, what motivates them to be a mentor, their experiences with the first edition of the programme, and what words of wisdom they've got for prospective NEXUS participants. Engineer, inventor, founder, marketer, and teacher – YEDA's CIO & Head of Marketing Tamir Huberman fills all these roles and more with his lifelong passion for problem-solving. Having already done so in the first batch of our NEXUS programme, Huberman is looking forward to sharing this knowledge with the next generation of innovators through a mentorship role in the 2nd edition of the incubator.

“In the first part of your career, you are learning. In the second part, you are creating. And in the third part you start teaching and bringing your experience to others. That’s where I am now,” says Huberman.

Starting out as an electronics technician, Huberman then switched to structural biology and computer science before moving into business. With this background he was able to do a lot of things, but his burning passion was to work for a company entirely immersed in innovation.

“As I was an inventor and had a couple of patents to my name, I searched for a company involved in innovation all day long,” recalls Huberman.

“I had found out that universities have technology-transfer companies to submit patents for the inventions of their researchers, so for three years I sent my CV only to two of these companies. This was how I would get come to work for The Hebrew University’s technology transfer company, Yissum, for 15 years,” he says.

Today, Huberman is Chief Information Officer and Head of Marketing for YEDA, the technology transfer company for Israel’s famed Weizmann Institute of Science.

“When I was in 12th grade, I would go into the Weizmann Institute to read patents, so working for the organisation is like closing the loop on one of my big dreams,” he says.

Along the way Huberman has also studied neurolinguistic programming and founded a company in that field. He’s become a renowned influencer on LinkedIn, where he delivers lectures to help others achieve their dreams too. This is what brought him to Finland and, eventually, the University of Helsinki’s NEXUS programme.

Diversity drives innovation

Huberman sees entrepreneurship as a mindset of constantly seeking opportunities for improvement and innovation.

“Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking. An entrepreneur is someone who looks at the world and sees challenges and solutions. You’re constantly using your brain power to think about how things can be done better. I call this CANI: constant and never-ending improvement,” he says.

“As I’m so consumed with this way of thinking, it's very easy for me to know within a few minutes whether a person has at least a part of this method of thinking and will make a great entrepreneur,” explains Huberman.

One of Huberman’s own entrepreneurial highlights was revolutionising information retrieval with the creation of an IT system he called Technology Transfer Management (TTM). This work had a profound impact on his career and fuelled his passion for driving even more innovation.

“TTM was the leading solution in Israel for many years,” he says. “I'm a lover of innovation, but I'm also a lover of information. People think of an IT system as just software, but it’s a very powerful thing. It ignites the business.”

When it comes to mentoring in the Nexus programme, Huberman emphasises the importance of team dynamics and diversity. He tries to look beyond ideas and focus more on the team's potential for collaboration and innovation. Varied backgrounds and complementary skills in marketing, research and other domains are essential for success.

“I try to detach myself from loving specific ideas. I’m searching for something that’s innovative, but I put more focus on the team than on the idea. It’s the synergies between the people that will develop the idea. This is why I value diversity within the team,” explains Huberman.

“I love innovation through startups, because it’s about that intersection between an idea, the team, a mentor, and a bit of investment. I call it the crystallisation phase.”

“Crystallisation happens when you have the right conditions. You never know in advance if something is going to be successful or not, but after 20 years in a tech-transfer environment I believe I can understand what’s in front of me and how to crystalise an idea into a startup,” he says.

Small teams, simple ideas

In our first NEXUS programme Huberman mentored startup aic.Health. The company, which creates a solution for managing electronic health records, won 1st prize in NEXUS' demo-day pitching contest in March 2023.

Despite the team’s success, it was not always plain sailing. They initially struggled with a lack of focus, which Huberman attributed to the team being too large. After an off-site brainstorming session and a commitment to change, they regrouped into a focused team of four that went on to win the competition.

“For me an ideal team is three to four people,” explains Huberman. “If there are too many individuals, then you can easily become confused about what needs to be done and who does what. This can then mean that nothing gets done. To bring an idea life, you must realize what’s truly important for the team.”

Huberman emphasizes the need for startup founders to keep things simple and focus on how their idea is solving a real-world problem.

“Entrepreneurs are often consumed by the idea first. But there are essentially two scenarios for companies developing a product or service. It’s either something completely new – such as the iPhone was, or ChatGPT is today – or then it’s a product that improves something already in existence,” he says. 

“If you are inventing something completely new, then you must teach the market. Otherwise, it makes no sense to go ahead and develop something that end users will not understand.”

“I try to get the teams I work with to them to dumb down whatever it is they’re developing,” says Huberman. “You don’t have to immediately make the most complex AI product, for example. You can always do that in the second or third round. Keep it simple at the start, so you can explain how it works and then see later if more complexity is needed to make it better.”

“In Israel, investors have a preference to invest in teams that have had at least one failure. This shows you know at least one thing NOT to do,” he adds.

NEXUS 2: a demanding educational journey

Huberman has emphasised the importance of gathering feedback to continuously improve the NEXUS programme. He believes NEXUS 2 will be even better at driving innovation and says that teams should be prepared to fully commit to the programme.

“We’ve made excellent improvements to the programme. It has the potential to completely change your business life. But this is not a trip or a vacation – it’s a deep educational journey that’s very time consuming and often extremely difficult” says Huberman.

Thanks to the experience from the first NEXUS, the desired outcomes of NEXUS 2 are now clearer than in the previous version of the programme. Workshop subjects and exercises have also been improved based on feedback from both mentors and participants. The result is that NEXUS 2 better reflects the needs of the teams from the Helsinki University ecosystem.

“To be part of NEXUS 2 your CPU brain power needs to be at 100% and you must be prepared for things that are not convenient for you. This means being ready to receive feedback that might not feel comfortable. Not everyone is built for that.”

“But if a person has an entrepreneurial spirit and the will to solve the difficult problems in the world, then NEXUS 2 is the place for you,” says Huberman.

More information

NEXUS is the University of Helsinki's mentor-driven Deep Tech, AI, and Sustainability 6-month incubator programme designed to help teams with crystallised solutions in those domains to turn those into scalable, fundable global startups. The call for the programme’s 2nd batch closed on 6 August 2023, and the programme will run from 21 August 2023 to 29 March 2024.

For additional information on the the 2023 NEXUS incubator, please contact:

Andres Peña Archila, NEXUS programme manager

Potential mentors, corporates, CVC's and investors interested in partnering with NEXUS, please contact:

Alfonso Gutierrez, Senior Manager, Global Corporate Partnerships