Our IE trip was focused on Israel as the “Start-up Nation” – most of our visits highlighted either the financial or the technical drivers of innovation, especially in the clean tech / renewable energy industry. In Tel Aviv, we visited several venture capital and private equity firms. Even though I know relatively little about finance, especially compared to a few of my classmates on the trip, I really enjoyed these visits. They were awesome opportunities to meet and learn from people who have the vision, the courage, and the perseverance to build a business from scratch. We heard success stories from both the partners at the VC firms and the founders of the start-ups. It was clear that Israelis like to dream big.
The other half of our trip was dedicated to renewable energy technologies, and we spent several days in the Arava Desert in the southern half of the country. I had expected to see more companies that were up and running, but we instead toured several “proof of concept” sites. Still impressive. The sites were striking in terms of how much has to be built out before a technology becomes “bankable” – yet, all these solar panels set up in the desert not generating any electricity for the grid seemed a little wasteful, but is clearly an important step in the innovation process.
The big highlight for me – and I think a number of my peers – was heading into the Timmna copper mines. We donned bright blue jumpsuits, big green galoshes, hard hats, safety goggles, work gloves, and even ear plugs. It was serious. 25 of us hopped into a work truck and headed down into the mines to the front section of drilling. It was incredible to see the tunnels being constructed before full production began. I’ve been known to get a little claustrophobic - so this was a challenge and an accomplishment. But mostly, I walked away thinking about the lives of the mine employees – and how my future work, which will likely be in front of a computer screen seemed both not so bad and a little bit too privileged.