Every June Princeton students disperse for their taste of career and life experience that we fondly know as the 'summer internship'. For some, this means 10 weeks of filling out spreadsheets or working on a piece of code with 12 interns or crunching endless numbers. But to the Princeton Startup Immersion Program (PSIP) Israel students, 'summer internship' means building and developing and owning our own projects within a company who see the value of our talents.
The interns in the PSIP program, offered through the Keller Center, worked at a variety of diverse startups in Tel Aviv this summer. Many of us came in with little experience: applying as a 'marketing intern' while studying engineering, architecture, or philosophy. We quickly learned that, despite our lack of industry experience, we were resources our companies needed. At early stage startups fighting for the highly coveted exit, there's not much 'extra' of anything - time, personnel, money.
Katherine Wang ’20 worked as a Data Science Intern at Apester, a Tel Aviv based startup creating a digital storytelling platform. After 2 years in the Computer Science Department at Princeton, Katherine had been exposed to the foundations and some applications of programming but had never applied these skills in industry. Within the first couple of weeks in Israel, she started developing a dashboard addition to the company’s site to segment customer data. “I was surprised that they trusted me with such a huge project so early on,” Katherine explains, “but it was a feature they really needed and just didn’t have the employees available to build.” She taught herself Python and HTML/CSS to tackle the job, working on the project alone with advice and mentorship from another team member. On her last day of work, amidst pool parties and goodbyes, Apester launched Katherine’s feature to the site. She recounted, “As I left the office, I was proud of my addition - both the tangible product and my impact as a team member - and of the lasting value I had created.”
Eric Steinhart ’20 worked as a Research Intern at Windward, a hi-tech maritime and data analytics startup. His first night working in Tel Aviv, he pulled an all-nighter. He didn’t lose track of time at Bograshov Beach or indulge in the nightlife on Rothschild Boulevard. Eric stayed up creating a slide deck analyzing data for a presentation to the whole sales team the next day. Eric describes his experience, “My detailed Excel pivot tables and charming slide decks actually generated important strategy discussions and decisions among the entire sales team, allowing me to see firsthand my definitive contribution to the mission and success of Windward.” As Eric became a part of the team culture - enjoying early morning yoga, the mid-day company plank, and spending time with colleagues outside of the office - he also created value in his research contributions that analyzed critical business deals for the company.
The potential for valuable additions was especially prominent at my startup SigmaLabs as it’s a pro-bono accelerator. The accelerator relies financially on support from sponsors, it has only two employees who are consumed with running the operations and supporting logistically the startup teams in the program. As a Research and Marketing Intern, I filled roles and created projects working toward goals that the accelerator never had the resources to address. I acted as a research intern for 3 companies in the program, becoming somewhat proficient in 5G networks, online travel agencies, and bee pollination in the US and New Zealand. A devoted extra pair of hands went a long way for groups of 3-4 founders trying to create an entire business model. For the accelerator, I interviewed over a dozen professionals related to SigmaLabs – partners, alumni, mentors – and wrote articles using their expertise for the site blog. I used this content and SEO to increase traffic to the blog. In this way, I created a marketing strategy (with guidelines for the next intern) to create a lasting and sustainable impact.
In our 2 months working in Tel Aviv, we were undoubtedly still interns. We put away groceries when they needed us to. We grammar checked many an English email. We sat in on meetings and discussions, and sometimes we added in our perspectives, but we were not the decision makers. As we took this opportunity to learn, to be immersed in a new culture, and to discover the front lines of a fast-paced industry, we became significant parts of these ambitious groups of founders and teams that truly needed us. As we leave Tel Aviv with a tan and the 6 words of Hebrew slang, we leave behind a lasting impact and value for the companies to which we applied and dedicated ourselves.