Embracing Israel’s Surge in Summer Interns

Summer intern participants; photo courtesy Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

By Jacob Ner-David

Last week, 221 of America’s brightest and most ambitious college students landed in Tel Aviv.

During the school year, these students – and 1,500 of their peers – spend their free time participating in a program run by TAMID Group – working on consulting projects for Israeli startups or researching Israeli investments. And now, instead of high-paying opportunities on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, they are spending the summer as interns in Israel’s high-tech sector.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this group is its diversity. TAMID runs its program at 41 campuses, with a group of students that runs the gamut – American and non-American, Jewish and non-Jewish, urban and rural. What unites them is their talent and their thirst to learn from Israeli innovation.

Katie Petersen, a Princeton junior who helps run an anti-human trafficking group on campus, will work at beauty startup MissBeez. Daniel Solis, a Columbia University junior student whom a university in Argentina invited to speak on his engineering research, will be interning at wearable health-monitor company LifeBEAM. Natalie Benn, who founded the TAMID Group chapter at University of Oregon, is working at music startup Yokee.

TAMID Group, whose summer program is run under the Onward Israel umbrella, is not the only organization using career development as a vehicle to connect students to Israel (as a board member, it is the one I know best). Thanks to funding from the Paul E. Singer Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, outstanding programs like Birthright Excel and Israel & Co. have catalyzed a surge in young people from abroad visiting Israel to learn about business.

A report from the consulting firm Stax indicates that 2,185 overseas students will come to Israel for an internship program this year. That is a whopping 2700 percent increase from only 79 students in 2011.

The explosion in interns hitting the streets of Tel Aviv is a new trend, but these visitors may not realize that they carry the torch of a grand tradition: young overseas volunteers who come to inject their talent into Israel’s economy.

Perhaps the most storied example is Al Schwimmer, a young American aerospace engineer who in 1948 organized the smuggling of World War II war planes to Israel. Eventually, at the goading of David Ben-Gurion, he founded the multi-billion dollar company Israel Aerospace Industries.

In later decades, contributions from overseas volunteers were more idyllic but still accretive to the economy. In the late 1960s and 1970s, thousands of foreign volunteers served at kibbutzim, offering important contributions to Israeli agriculture.

Today, I own an award-winning winery whose grapes grow on land that is less than an hour’s drive from kibbutzim that benefited from the help of a variety of personalities – from funnyman Jerry Seinfeld to the stately actress Helen Mirren, and from the conservative British politician Boris Johnson to the liberal Bernie Sanders.

In each era, the volunteers bolster a sector that is critical for Israel’s prosperity. Today, that sector is high-tech.

It is easy to write off interns as coffee-runners and photocopy-makers, but TAMID students are adding tremendous value to the Israeli companies where they work.

When the venture capital firm Glilot asked its TAMID intern Yoni Krakow to help with research, he exceeded expectations by finding and conducting due diligence on a startup that the firm decided to invest in. When Dov-E realized that their TAMID intern Max Zuo was fluent in Chinese, they tapped him to lead the company’s expansion into China. There are so many more stories of interns delivering far beyond expectations.

Therein lies the difference between history’s volunteers and today’s interns. TAMID Group is an exclusive program that only accepts elite talent. These are the CEOs, tech titans, and financial wizards of tomorrow. They will influence policy, media, and philanthropy. In having the summer of their lives in Israel, these future business leaders will forever be friends of the “Startup Nation.”

Jacob Ner-David is a serial entrepreneur and co-owner of Jezreel Winery. He serves on the board of TAMID Group.