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Immersing in Israel’s startup scene with Excel Ventures

Being fully immersed in the Tel Aviv start-up scene and trying to start a company offers plenty of “food for thought”; what’s great about Excel Ventures is that we meet with leaders and successful business people from around Israel
Tel Aviv skyscrapers (Simona Weinglass/Times of Israel)
Tel Aviv skyscrapers (Simona Weinglass/Times of Israel)

It’s safe to say that I have been full since the moment I landed in Israel. Full of fluffy falafel and mouthwatering malabi, yes, but my satiation stems from more than just Israeli cuisine; three months of intensive immersion into the Israeli startup ecosystem offers endless food for thought.

Last March, I received an email with an offer to join the founding cohort of the Birthright Israel Excel Ventures Program. After the success of Birthright Excel, a 10-week internship program that places American college students in internships around Tel Aviv, Birthright Israel decided to dive into the Israeli startup scene by launching Excel Ventures. The program operates like an accelerator and lets 17 Americans and Israelis between the ages of 20 and 30 experience the process of launching a venture in one of the startup capitals of the world.

You might be wondering why I, a 22-year old young professional with a consulting job in the US, decided to drop everything and spend 10 weeks attempting to build a startup. Let’s take a step back. Last summer, I participated in a regular Birthright Israel trip and, like many Americans; fell in love with Israel — so much so that I spent a good amount of time finding a way to return. I was searching for opportunities to get a strong taste of Israeli culture while advancing personally and professionally. Then I found Excel Ventures. Not only has this program given me the privilege of spending a summer in Israel, but it’s confirmed my desire to live here full-time, provided clarity to my career aspirations, and allowed me to see first-hand what the Startup Nation is all about.

Being fully immersed in the Tel Aviv startup scene and trying to start a company offers plenty of “food for thought”, but this is only half of the equation. What’s great about Excel Ventures is that when we’re not collaborating in our workspace in the heart of Tel Aviv, we meet with leaders and successful business people from around Israel. These influencers fill our minds with concepts like “the riskiest thing to do is not take risks,” and “unsuccessful people think they know; successful people know they think.” On a more tangible level, we’ve presented our ventures to many of Tel Aviv’s top venture capitalists, participated in ideation workshops, and received a behind-the-scenes look at marketing strategies that make successful brands pop.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned throughout this journey is that the glitz and glam of the startup world comes only through extreme dedication, grit, and passion. As a young entrepreneur, I think it’s important to get a realistic view of what starting a company entails, and there’s no better place to do that than in Israel.

Besides experiencing the startup grind, being part of Birthright Israel Excel means joining a network of young and ambitious students, professionals, and friends from around the world. The tight-knit community fostered by excursions around Israel, captivating lectures, and relaxing weekends in Tel Aviv has given me friendships that will last long beyond the 10 weeks we spend living together.

Though the Excel Ventures program ends in a few weeks, I know that my connection and involvement with Israel and with the startup community will continue. So pass the hummus — I think I can expect to be full for a while.

About the Author
Sophia is originally from Atlanta, Georgia. She studied Economics and Spanish at the University of Georgia and spent a year as an exchange student at Oxford University in England. In her free time, Sophia enjoys running, painting, reading on the beach, experimenting with new recipes, skiing (snow and water!), and hiking with friends and family.
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