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Elevator Fund Internship – Fourth Week

Haifa-SunsetAlthough the media’s headlines are serving up a storm regarding the situation in Israel, Chuk believes it is a safe place for the people living there. What an interesting time to be in Israel…

This week at work, I had the chance to do some field work, as opposed to work done solely behind the desk. Exploring around Tel Aviv to receive integral documents for Elevator was exactly what I needed to experience the local streets of the city. I also got to assist for a recent campaign developed by Elevator called www.isupportisrael.org. We aim to help families and businesses in the southern Israel impacted by the consequences of the current war. On my part, I partnered with another intern to work on a press release for this charity initiative to help gain more media attention. Thus far, our efforts have paid off; the campaign achieved a recent goal in raising over $50,000 from donations. The next goal is doubling it. It was exciting to be involved in a humanitarian project concerning the current time and context. My last project was to resume last week’s project in updating Elevator’s portfolio companies. In a nutshell, work was spontaneous and fun this week; this is what made the internship so appealing from the very beginning.

On the weekends, my friends and I have been eager to finally explore Israel, escape this bubble of Tel Aviv we have been trapped in the past few weeks, and see what the State of Israel has to offer. So at last, I had the chance to visit the Holy City Jerusalem on a day trip. It’s hard to explain my visit, it is just so holy and different from Tel Aviv; I can simplify it as an experience alluring for anyone wishing to discover the historic beauty and vibrancy in such a significant city, and grasp the mixture and feel of three different religions. Visiting the sites that encapsulate the story of Jesus Christ seemed surreal to me. We had tour guides within the Old City and the Mount of Olives, seeing a variety of stunning churches, synagogues, cemeteries, temples, and cultures. So much more to discover – this is one of the magical qualities about Jerusalem, and I will definitely return.

The next day, since we had heard a lot of positive things about Haifa, we thought it was worthwhile to visit the northern coast of Israel. We intended to go see the Bahai Gardens. Unfortunately we woke up too late; nonetheless it is another city to which we plan to return next weekend, it was that wonderful. Its picturesque and scenic views combined with its exquisite architecture offer a calm and quiet mood. According to a few locals, it used to be a tourist hotspot, but everything has unfortunately cooled down over the recent years. Wrapping up the weekend, we probed through Tel Aviv’s Art Museum, housing a collection of modern and classical art. I found it very abstract; sadly, art is not a field comprehensible to me. Interestingly, the highlight was a mini documentary representing the Palestinian perspective on the conflict in Gaza; it was an awakening experience to enrich my understanding on both sides of the table.

It was a pleasant week with lots of sightseeing around Israel. We organised a weekend that had to be done or I would have absolutely regretted not taking advantage of exploring Israel. Hopefully, more will be seen by next week as my friends and I have arranged to swim at the Dead Sea, check out the Golan Heights, and revisit Jerusalem and Haifa for the upcoming weekend.

Chuk Chan (Jeffrey), BA Business Management

Jerusalem

Elevator Fund Internship 2014 – Third Week

Tel Aviv“How are you enjoying the war?” asked my boss with a big grin and a chuckle.  What war?  On the streets and beaches of Tel Aviv, it seemed to be business as usual: dog walkers, people watchers, and dedicated joggers.  Less than 40 miles south of Tel Aviv, in cities like Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Be’er Sheva, a very different reality was setting in.  Over 85 rockets had been fired into Southern Israeli cities by Hamas on July 7th from Gaza.  The barrage would not go unanswered.  By the morning of July 8th, Operation Protective Edge was in full swing.  The past few weeks have been an incredibly unique experience, full of insightful conversations, new friendships, and meaningful connections.

Watching the World Cup at the hostelWhen I first told my parents about the trip, they were reluctant.  “Why don’t you find something in D.C. or New York?”  They, like many Americans, were all too familiar with recent media coverage.  In a similar vein, Israelis often ask me “Why did you choose Israel?” The answer has two parts.  The first is my passion for entrepreneurship.  Israel is known as “Startup Nation,” with the most number of startups per capita and about 3% of their GDP attributed solely to startups (as of 2000).  Foreign investment, talented engineers, and a thriving entrepreneurial culture create a powerhouse for technological innovation.  The second part is a sense of wanderlust.  I believe it is essential to explore, travel, meet new people, and experience different cultures.  I must have told my parents, “It will be fine, I can take care of myself” several hundred times before the trip.  In all honesty, as I was sitting at the gate in Frankfurt waiting to board my connecting flight to Tel Aviv, there were some nerves.  It is so important, especially in today’s global economy, to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

As unattractive as it sounds to live in a hostel for seven weeks, it has been one of the most rewarding parts of my experience so far.  Chef  Hostel is a small pink building situated in the heart of Tel Aviv – only two blocks from one of the busiest roads in Tel Aviv, Rothschild Boulevard, and a fifteen minute walk from the beach.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many different people from all over the world.  Hostel life is all about new friendships, making connections, and spontaneity.  One simple trick I’ve learned: talk to everyone.  People are predictable.  A smile and a “where are you from?” are all it takes to make a new friend.  The beauty of hostel life is that people open up very quickly – a few days of friendship at a hostel can feel like a few months of friendship back home.  Living long-term at a hostel can be bittersweet at times, too.  The friendships are fleeting – especially when most patrons only stay for a couple of days.

The office at ElevatorI currently intern at Elevator Fund, an investment vehicle for early-stage startups.  Work offers a much needed balance to Tel Aviv’s scorching beach fronts and vivacious nightlife.  Sometimes I forget that I’m not on vacation.  Our office is only a five minute walk from Chef Hostel – it’s sleek, modern, and feels a bit like a startup in and of itself.  There are five other interns in our office: four from the United States and one living in Israel who has recently completed his service in the IDF.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve done a bit of everything.  I’ve worked directly with Israeli startups on content, research, and strategy, as well as with Elevator on potential partnerships with large corporations.  Working at Elevator has provided me with a better understanding of Israel’s startup ecosystem as well as insight into the current situation in Israel.

In the weeks leading up to our departure date, news of the three missing Israeli teenagers made headlines around the world.  The news was unsettling, and reports that one of the teenagers was also an American citizen brought the story closer to home.  On June 30, after 18 days of searching, the bodies of the three boys were found.  The mood in Tel Aviv was somber as Israelis mourned the loss of the teens.

Missle Preparation FlyerFrom there, things transpired quickly.  In response to discovery of the bodies, Israel launched airstrikes on Gaza which were met with rockets fired into Israel by Hamas.  On July 2nd, a Palestinian teen was kidnapped and burned alive in what appeared to be a revenge killing.  As tensions rose, we were advised not to travel to Jerusalem by the U.S. Embassy because of riots and protests.  Israel’s crackdown on Hamas would eventually lead to Operation Protective Edge.  The morning of July 8th, our boss handed us packets titled “My family’s preparations in case of missile strikes,” which looked eerily similar to a pamphlet you might find about hurricane preparedness.  According to the packet, we have about 90 seconds to find shelter.  I didn’t think rockets would be an issue in the bustling metropolis that is Tel Aviv.  I was wrong.

The first rocket siren went off in Tel Aviv at 7:05 PM on July 8th.  I actually didn’t hear it.  We were out shopping on Allenby Street when one of our friends got a call from a relative.  We rushed back to the hostel and turned on the news.  A group of us – French, Germans, Americans, and Israelis – talked about what was happening.  Most were tense, but the Israelis insisted that everything was fine.  We later found out that the siren does not sound city-wide, but instead only  in neighborhoods in the path of the rocket.  There was also a lot of talk about the “Iron Dome,” Israel’s missile defense system.  The Iron Dome is designed to track, intercept, and destroy rockets heading towards populated areas.  The system prioritizes the rockets, and those heading towards open fields or unpopulated areas are not intercepted.

Bavarian business delegation at ElevatorThe first sirens I actually heard sounded off the next day while at the office.  The entire office hurried down into the building’s lower level.  Spirits were high, people were chatting, and after a few minutes everybody was back at their desks.  Over the next couple of weeks, these bomb shelter hangouts would become more and more common.  It’s the one time of the day everybody in the office is together, albeit just for a few minutes.  Discussion of current events is a daily ritual at the office and in the hostel.  The variety of perspectives has been enriching and the occasional argument is not uncommon.  It seems like everyone has something to say, and some opinions are more informed than others.

Since early July, rockets and sirens have become a regular interruption to daily activities.  There are usually one or two a day in Tel Aviv, and each time the routine is the same.  You run to a nearby shelter (be it an official city shelter, a restaurant, stairwell, etc), wait until you hear the “boom” of the interception – occasionally there are two or three, and then carry on with your day.  You’re supposed to wait up to 10 minutes after the sirens go off before venturing outside (in case of falling debris), but very few do.

One evening I was eating on a patio with some friends on Rothschild Boulevard, one of the main streets in Tel Aviv.  We looked up from our meals and saw an orange ball in the sky.  The rocket was too far away to trigger the siren, but close enough to see.  Suddenly, in a bright orange flash the ball was gone.  Another Iron Dome success.  Looking back, the situation was incredibly surreal.  The contrast between restaurant patrons enjoying dinner and rockets flying by is something I’ve grown accustomed to.  I have been strangely calm throughout the whole ordeal.  Maybe it’s the sense of security provided by the Iron Dome.  Or maybe it’s the man at Carmel Market who explained that this was just a part of life in Israel and there was nothing to worry about, a sentiment shared by almost every Israeli I’ve spoken to.  Those that are troubled are usually small business owners, like the owner of Chef Hostel, who are worried about the low levels of tourism in a month when business is usually bustling.  As the hostel owner put it, “there is no real rocket threat, the only real threat is that you get too burned from the sun and too full from hummus.”

The city has been especially quiet lately with the onset of the ground offensive in Gaza.  Thousands of Israelis have been called back to service, including several from our office.  In Israel, many are required to remain on reserve until the age of 40.  The juxtaposition of Tel Aviv’s vibrant nightlife and the war raging on farther south is strange at times.  With hundreds dead in Gaza and no immediate solution in sight, the situation appears to be quickly deteriorating.  Friends and family in the States often worry about what’s happening here, but in Tel Aviv, it seems, life goes on.

-Justin Lau

Elevator Fund Internship 2014 – Second Week

ElevatorI thought it was not possible to build upon the amount of new things I experienced from my first week, yet unbelievably my second week topped it. It was an interesting week being able to witness first-hand the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Hearing the sirens and explosions in the skies from the Iron Dome spurred a mixture of feelings from danger to curiosity. Although portions of the country have fallen into a state of unrest, the people, particularly in Tel Aviv, have reflected a different image:  locals walking their dogs, taking the bus, and sunbathing in the beaches. In other words, people continue with their everyday routine activities. These routines have reassured me that despite all the troubles, I should be safe if that is how the locals feel.

Prior to the mentioned incidents, I had got involved in Tel Aviv’s tenth annual “Water War,” with thousands of youths gathering at the Habima Square armed with water guns and overflowing buckets. It was an overwhelmingly fun event, strongly recommended to anyone who does visit the city during this time of the year. I also got to explore the wonders of the Carmel market, filled with cheap food stands to clothing sales, and local specialties like spices. On my latest visit, I even took the opportunity to test my Hebrew and negotiate for more reasonable prices on my fruit and vegetables. The friendly and approachable Israeli community encourages and rewards my efforts to integrate into the culture. Furthermore, relaxing on the beach at night while watching the World Cup games epitomizes why I made the right decision to come and explore Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv MarketNevertheless, work continues as does life. One aspect of the Israeli culture to which I certainly need more time to adjust is the Hebrew calendar, where working days are from Sunday to Thursday, with Friday and Saturday being considered the weekend. Anyways, on Sunday, I was given the task of providing biographies of 28 professionals for a total of thirteen pages of research notes, needed within four hours. Although my fingers were exhausted afterwards, I felt like I had accomplished a worthy achievement.

My next project comprised of locating top Chinese internet companies relevant for the organisation to investigate, and my final main project was editing Elevator’s program schedule intended for its upcoming class of fresh new start-ups. Overall, the intensity of the work does not compare with last week’s workload as external distractions impacted slightly this week’s work hours. The main message for this week is that, regardless of what happens, work and life resumes; what matters is what will happen in the future opposed to what happened in the past.

This is an experience that will stick by me for the rest of my life. However, it is now time to absorb the experience, leave it behind and look forward to the rest of this adventure. Long live Tel Aviv’s joie de vivre! (French expression to enjoy life)

Chuk Chan (Jeffrey)

Elevator Fund Internship – First Week – Michelle Kwon

On Thursday June 26th, I arrived to Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport with a warm welcome (both literally and figuratively). As we were descending to our destination, we were blessed with the view of Tel-Aviv’s infamous beachfront view, which was indeed breathtaking. The juxtaposition of the dry barren tones of the desert and the deep aqua-marine blue of the ocean reminded me of an oasis, and I couldn’t wait to step my foot into it. The flood of excitement of seeing the city from an aerial view suddenly changed into anxiety as I landed and entered the airport. Although I did a fair amount of research before entering the country, I was nervous of the cultural and language barrier that existed. After successfully passing through customs, I realized that I shouldn’t have been so concerned about these barriers because even though I am an outlier in this country, people still treated me as if I were just like everyone else.

Once we arrived at the hostel, we checked in and got settled in. Soon after, we were informed that it was a holiday special to Tel-Aviv called “White Night” where everyone in the city comes out in the evening to celebrate in Tel-Aviv’s famous street, Rothschild Boulevard. The person who checked us in at the hostel said it was such a coincidence that we arrived on that specific day. After changing into something more adequate for the hot climate, we left the hostel for the main street. The entire street was closed and people were walking on the road, talking amongst themselves and watching the various street artists and performers. I had heard that Tel-Aviv was famous for its nightlife but I was so surprised when I was experiencing the vibrant lights and the relaxed atmosphere in real life. My assumption was that only young people were going to bars and clubs, but what I saw was the whole community come out to just spend time with one another, which was so special and it made me realize what an intimate culture Israel was.

-Michelle Kwon

Elevator Fund Internship – First Week – Chuk

My arrival in Tel Aviv was welcomed warmly starting from a conversation with the cab driver to meeting my colleagues from Boston University, who were patiently waiting for me in the hostel at 3AM. The fact that I live in a hostel might give people the impression that it would be uncomfortable, dirty, musty and cheap; I do not shy from admitting I had a similar perception. Yet, quite frankly, my first week has been far from what I had anticipated. During my stay, it has been a cozy place with a stunning back garden, where we have watched the world cup games through a projector; it has this aura of a homely atmosphere. The best part of it, though, is the fact I am meeting and socializing with different individuals every single day. Networking and constantly gaining new friends has made this trip so exhilarating thus far. My perception of hostels has definitely changed.

On my first day at work in Elevator, I was astonished at the number of interns already working for the company. They were crucial to my adaption into the culture, feeling more comfortable, and also learning a few of the hidden tasty spots within Tel Aviv along the way. However, my most vivid memory was when I arrived at work at 10AM. I was relishing my time as a newcomer, and by 10:20AM was handed several projects to follow up on. My first project involved researching the innovation aspects, investment strategies, and potential partnerships between Elevator and multi-billion pound conglomerate, the Hanwha Group. Furthermore, I even had the chance to attend the meeting consisting of representatives from both parties. My next project involved retrieving market research for a Bavarian delegation occurring the next day. However, what really sparked my interest in this internship was being able to meet members of the Bavarian Ministry. From then I realised, I am not observing the real world anymore; I am involved with it now. Also with this opportunity, I am grasping better the importance of networking; anyone you meet could be of great help in the future, you just do not know it yet. With rushing deadlines and intense research—all under a friendly and productive environment—I am just glad to be able to add value to an organisation.

To describe Tel Aviv in a few words, it is simply beautiful, modern, and casual. Its beaches, weather, architecture, and cuisine are refreshing. It reminds me that although I came for an internship, I also came to enjoy my vacation. The delicious taste of a falafel and hummus indicate merely a fragment of what to expect from Tel Aviv. The people are great, work is interesting and food is flavourful; nothing much more I can ask for in my first week. “Shalom” for now, as that is all I can say in Hebrew so far.