Seven Penn undergraduates and one Penn alumnus are participating in an elite 10-week-long fellowship in Israel this summer.
Organized by Birthright Israel — the same company that brings young adults, including many Penn students, to Israel on a free trip — the Birthright Excel Fellowship runs two programs: The Business Experience Program, open to college sophomores, juniors and select seniors, and The Excel Ventures Program, open to college seniors and recent graduates.
According to the organization’s , the programs are “each uniquely designed for talented Jewish future leaders pursuing a career in business and/or entrepreneurship.”
This year, the Business Experience program accepted 44 North American and 44 Israeli participants while the Excel Ventures Program accepted 20 young adults, 10 American and 10 Israeli. Both programs — which are sponsored in part by the State of Israel and in part by other foundations, such as The Steinhardt Family Foundation, The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and The Paul E. Singer Foundation — aim to build connections between the Unites States and Israel.
The Business Experience Program, which the seven undergraduate Penn students are in, offers participants an internship at a prominent company in Israel and guidance from professional mentors. Participants are also matched with an Israeli peer who helps to expose them to Israeli culture.
Wharton sophomore Ethan Arbess is interning at venture capital fund F2 Capital as part of the Business Experience Program and said he enjoys the responsibilities he has to take on by interning.
He added that he likes the program for exposing him to “the entire Israeli tech ecosystem” and allowing him to explore Israeli culture.
Throughout the Business Experience Program, participants learn about business and entrepreneurship from CEOs, venture capital investors and business leaders such as general manager for Uber Israel Yoni Greifman, and vice president of eCommerce at the Israel-based company Wix, David Schwartz.
Students also attend talks by prominent figures such as the CEO of Google Israel Meir Brand, and the former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, Yuval Diskin.
The Business Experience internships are unpaid, but Birthright Excel covers all expenses related to flights, programming and housing for North American participants in both the Business Experience and Ventures programs.
Another goal of the program is cultural exposure. Each participant is assigned an Israeli peer who is either a member of the Israel Defense Forces or studying in areas of comparable interest to the participant. Peers help participants explore Tel Aviv and travel around Israel. The program’s curriculum also emphasizes learning about Israeli society through a three-day trip to Jerusalem and seminars on the Israeli ecosystem and venture capital landscape.
Wharton sophomore Audrey Goldberg said the program has been engaging on both a professional and a cultural level.
She said she often finds herself “discussing geopolitics of the Middle East over breakfast and the role religion plays in an individual’s identity while walking to work.”
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