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Global Innovation Immersion (GII) - USA

Thursday Sep 12,2019 | IIE News

The Global Innovation Immersion (GII) programme was developed by Singapore Management University Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship to give students at SMU a chance to have a different internship experience than the norm. Aiming to equip students with all the skills necessary to future-proof their career, SMU IIE has partnered up with start-ups across the world to bring the world to their students.

Out of the various countries in the GII programme you are able to pick from, one of the amazing locations is of course, the USA. Some of the cities you’re able to pick from are New York, San Francisco, and Boulder. Home to the famed Golden Gate Bridge, We Bare Bears, Twitter and Uber, it is hardly surprising San Francisco is one of the more popular picks amongst the slew of cities GII offers.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, despite the falling economy in America, the Bay Area’s technology industry continues to be a constant generator for jobs. Based on a study by the Computing Technology Industry Association or CompTIA to the uninitiated, two parts of the region — the San Francisco and San Jose metro areas — ranking No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, added the most tech jobs over the past year.

As it says on the GII website, “This is where you’ll learn from the best of the best. This is where you’ll rub shoulders with legends, titans and icons.”

Desirene Neo is one such SMU student currently undergoing an internship in San Francisco. She says in her interview, “Every building you walk past is a head turner. It’s Instagram, it’s Twitter, it's absolutely the heart of tech”.

GII USA is supported by the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore. They grant 6 AmCham Global Innovation Immersion Awards every year where S$4,000 each goes towards providing 6 students the opportunity to experience work and life in the USA. This award is open to all full-time SMU undergraduates embarking on GII in USA. Desirene is one of 6 SMU students who has been awarded the AmCham GII Award in 2019.


Tech Culture & Networking


Desirene (right), interviewing Aaron Schweifler, Director of Operations of Sports Basement


Desirene is a marketing intern at Workstream, a startup in Silicon Valley founded by SMU alumni Desmond Lim.

Workstream is a B2B platform for sourcing, screening and onboarding hourly workers. Companies that need to hire hourly workers are able to post a job ad for hourly workers and have it out on multiple different job portals without any manual effort on the employer’s part.

They present a hiring platform designed for high volume and fast growth that is automated, mobile, integrated and smart. With Workstream, HR managers are able to cut in half the time to screen, on-board and train employees.

“Companies like Jamba Juice, American Grilled Cheese and even F1 in Singapore have already been on-boarded by Workstream and the company is set to grow exponentially”, said Desirene.

“Working directly with Desmond is an eye-opener, he’s the CEO yet he’s so humble and willing to get his hands dirty. I once saw him take 15 back to back calls, and he still takes the time to be encouraging and that really drives the team at Workstream”, she said.

Desirene recently finished working on the Workstream's HR Panel held in San Francisco. This panel consisted of 4 panellists, Nate Pollak the CEO of American Grilled Cheese, Shera Shupert, HR for Instacut, Jimmye Ahn, HR from Crafty, and Steven Maltz, COO of m5 Partners dba Jamba Juice.

“This panel has been one of my biggest achievements to date, I had a hand in so many aspects of this project, from organising the panel, creating engaging videos and images, bringing in our investors and remote team together and creating this gigantic campaign!”, she laughed.

That is the fantastic thing about San Francisco, the mindset towards tech and networking is so open it’s mind-boggling. In her short stint in San Francisco, Desirene has already met the regional marketing manager from Walmart and has a meeting coming up with Salesforce and the marketing manager of Facebook!

Under the GII programme, SMU IIE encourages this very mindset of networking and connecting with the community around you. They educate students on how to structure conversations as well as offering students $100 to conduct 5 coffee chats, thereby encouraging students to be in the driver’s seat in building their own network and connections.   

“I sent messages to people I felt like connecting with, asked them out for coffee and met a number of incredible people,” said Desirene.  

“These amazingly successful people actually accepted my invite for coffee, they are so humble despite their success and open to speaking with anyone, it’s one of the greatest lessons I’ve learnt. This is how you learn, be humble even if you're successful and learn from every conversation,” she said.

In her 3-month stint at Workstream, Desirene has worked on the following: Rolled out a 3-month marketing plan, done the first round of hiring for two social media interns, created video case studies for their product with their clients, wrote scripts for videographers, worked on CRM and workflows on Hubspot, often creating workflows across departments, migrated websites and set up analytics and lead scoring, created content for social media and managing paid content. 


Advice for future GII Candidates

“My advice to anyone looking for an internship with GII is to cherish the experience if you do. Get down and dirty, your time here is very precious and 3 months goes by very quickly. Don’t procrastinate, meet people, and most importantly, stay humble!”


Desirene (bottom row, 1st on left) with her Workstream colleagues, Workstream founder, and SMU alumni, Desmond Lim (bottom row, 4th from right)


Another SMU student undergoing her internship under GII USA is Lynette Lau. The first impression you get from Lynette is that she is smart and very driven. Also an AmCham Global Innovation Immersion Award receipient, not only is she working for MylaBox, she has also chosen to attend classes at Stanford part-time during her time in the Silicon Valley.

A business analyst intern, Lynette is currently focusing her efforts on reducing costs for MylaBox by working on the logistics part of the business.

What is Myla Box? 

MylaBox is an E-commerce, logistics company that sells groceries and wholesale goods from big American stores like Walmart, to the local community in Jamaica. Founded by a team of Stanford graduate students, MylaBox focuses on reducing the cost of shipping specifically for consumers who are looking to shop across borders. Inspired by the Caribbean tradition of sending barrels home to loved ones, it is a yearly tradition that allowed immigrants in the U.S to send valuable groceries and commodity products to the ones that they cared for back home.

Their goal of removing inefficiencies, implementing new technologies and delivering the best customer experience in the world is one that Lynette is keen to get into.

“My overarching project while I’m here is to optimise shipping. This means experimenting to come up with the best ways to pack a box to reduce wasted space,” said Lynette.

“I'm left with 1 year at SMU and this experience has piqued my interest in the logistics industry. Technical industries and global supply chains are getting bigger now so I’m grateful for this insight into this industry,” she said.

Advice for future GII Candidates

“Go out there and go for events and understand what the whole startup process is like. While mentorship is Important, it doesn't have to be a single person, the entire community is very nurturing, there will always be an interest group out there you can get advice from.”



Lynette Lau hiking in the US


Self Improvement

Indeed, Chester Ong certainly finds the above advice from Lynette rings true in his experience as well.

A software developer intern, Chester is undergoing his internship at Reflect, a mental health therapy startup functioning as a marketplace dedicated to connecting therapists and customers, as well as destigmatising the need to seek help for mental health.

Also on the GII USA internship experience as an AmCham Global Innovation Immersion Award recipient, Chester has seen firsthand the value of GII and this entire internship experience in a world outside of his own.

“This experience has made me more driven and I think also more interesting as an individual,’ he said. 

“For example, I once disagreed with my CEO on how to proceed in a certain project but waited till after the meeting to voice my concerns to him privately. In response, the CEO encouraged me to provide my feedback more proactively in group sessions, to get my opinions heard and discussed among the team so that everyone is on the same page,” said Chester.


What have you been working on?

Having been on GII USA for the last 3 months, Chester's role within Reflect included restructuring the entire company database, clearing up data in the back end and implementing the right procedures.

“When I came in, I had to literally jump in and manually look at every row and column of the database to see where it has been used and whether the information is relevant,” he said.

“This was the first time I worked on a production live server. As the server is live, if I made a mistake that could mean a huge problem for Reflect. As you can imagine, it was very stressful, so much so that I was hesitant on making any changes!”

“Eventually I told myself to just do it, if not, nothing would ever get done and I would end up being just another intern that did not participate in a meaningful way. In this way, I pushed myself and I really contributed and made a change in a company I worked for and I’m really proud of that,” Chester said.

It would be easy to stay in Singapore, join a high-ranking company with a high paying job and live out your life in our tiny yet prosperous nation.Chester now wants to do something he loves, as opposed to just having a high paying position. He has met individuals who’ve shown him how many options there are in life, you just need to pick one you want to do. Desirene would relish the opportunity to keep working with her colleagues and the founder at Workstream, to be continuously pushed and introduced to the passion in the tech industry. Lynette wants to develop her experience in operations and logistics that she has since been exposed to, working for Mylabox in the States.

For these students who were given the opportunity through the GII programme to experience something different, their futures have now been opened up having created different pathways they can now choose to walk down.



Chester (second from left) in wine country with his friends


The Global Innovation Immersion programme is currently accepting applications! Find out more about the programme here.


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