Robert Taub: ‘Seeing the students’ ideas is refreshing – I love it’


The Taub Young Entrepreneurship Program is ORT’s flagship annual program for promoting business innovation and encouraging collaboration.

Small groups of students aged 14-16 are guided through a 30-week course in which they are tasked with designing a product to solve a social problem.

They develop their knowledge, skills and understanding of business and technology – culminating in a global final at which they present their projects to a panel of judges in front of a live audience of their peers.

For Robert Taub, the program is both an opportunity to give something back and to look forward to the future. As the lead sponsor of YEP, the serial entrepreneur and philanthropist is bringing his 35 years of experience in starting businesses to the table to benefit ORT students worldwide.

The Belgian first became involved in ORT around five years ago after being approached by Charlotte Gutman, Chair of ORT Belgium.

“When Charlotte came to me and showed me what ORT does, I understood and appreciated its focus on education,” Mr Taub explains.

“I believe that just like innovation, education is extremely important for the economy. Before you can innovate and be ahead of the competition you have to have a good education, so that was the appeal for me.”

After supporting initiatives through ORT Belgium, Mr Taub was asked to become more involved with World ORT and its programs. He now serves as World ORT’s Secretary and Deputy Chair of its Board of Trustees, as well as being an 1880 Society member, and his lengthy entrepreneurial background made the connection to YEP an obvious path to follow.

While his own background is in life sciences, YEP projects are often more consumer-oriented. But, as Mr Taub explains, it is the thinking behind such ideas that is most important.

“When I use the word innovation I think of technology and then of protecting that technology,” he says. “From a thought process point of view it is similar. After I sold one company, Omrix, to Johnson & Johnson, by chance I learned about another market – in obstructive sleep apnea. I didn’t know anything about it. But when I saw there was a market with a duopoly asking to be disrupted, I started a company on a blank sheet of paper – we just did an IPO last month and raised 100 million euros in five days.

“Obstructive sleep apnea is very simple, it’s not complicated to understand. What I am saying is that the thinking process of starting something – this is what you see in the children. You see it in the ideas. I spent some time on the YEP jury and it’s a very nice thing to do – it’s refreshing, I love it. The only thing I don’t have is time!”

In those rare moments of spare time Mr Taub reads about languages – an interest he developed in his youth and which saw him initially qualify professionally as a translator. He speaks French, Russian and English. Through his investment portfolio he has become interested in mining. “I’m not a geologist but I have a desire to learn more – I’m an extremely curious person.”

He also keeps fit – cycling around 100km a week – and tries to find time to draw, often sketching on the tram or in a café. “It gives me great pleasure,” he adds.

Returning to ORT’s work and YEP specifically, Mr Taub believes “the best reward for me would be if one day one of these projects from a teenager actually developed for them a few years later and became something very concrete – I could say look how we have helped these youngsters.

“For me it is all very personal – my first company after leaving the corporate world was based on a thesis I did during an MBA. If you are taught at school how to think to put a project together to become an entrepreneur and start a business then you can plant a seed for those willing to take risks later and to continue and become entrepreneurs.

“The whole economy, everywhere, is about small and medium enterprises. It’s not about huge conglomerates. And ORT is helping to create and to open the mind of these youngsters. This is ORT’s mission – educating for life and providing skills for the future.”

The student view: find out more about YEP and the impact it can have in this interview with Italian student Clara