‘It’s called a job’

‘It’s called a job’

Tenafly student interns for Israeli road-safety start-up

Ethan Hunter
Ethan Hunter

Ethan Hunter wants you to know about SafeMode, an Israeli company that helps trucking companies improve driver safety.

Mr. Hunter grew up in Tenafly, and he graduated from the Dwight-Englewood School in Englewood. Now, he’s a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis, where he is majoring in history and management.

And he is a student leader of the Tamid Group, a student organization that has more than 50 chapters across the country with some 8,000 participating students. Tamid was founded by students at the University of Michigan as an Israeli investment club in 2007.

Now, Tamid’s investment track is complemented by a consulting track, in which students work with Israeli companies.

“I’m a project manager on the consulting track,” Mr. Hunter explained. That has him overseeing a team of three Washington University students working with SafeMode. And it has him speaking regularly with Ido Levy, SafeMode’s founder and CEO.

Mr. Hunter’s team was paired with SafeMode through a process in which he applied to several companies that seemed interesting. “They posted a description, and I applied with my expertise,” he said. “Personally, I wanted a mentorship. I wanted broader connections between me as an undergraduate and Israel’s startup culture.”

Mr. Hunter spent last summer in Israel at Israel Summer Business Academy, a six-week Washington University program in Herzliya. He took classes on “venture capital and venture creation and the Israeli business ecosystem” and met with many Israeli entrepreneurs.

Mr. Hunter and his fellow students work on various tasks for SafeMode, including market research, branding, and search engine optimization. “It doesn’t have a marketing department,” he said. “We’re working to create social media posts for them to gain them more exposure. We’re getting hands-on experience. They don’t treat you like an intern. Interns don’t exist in Israel — it’s called a job.

“It’s a very open and inviting environment, which is very different from the U.S. I see it more as a mentorship than an internship. I have no problem sending the CEO a WhatsApp message any time I have a question,” he said.

As a project manager, Mr. Hunter comes up with “certain metrics and tasks” to keep the team on track. A lot of it revolves around reaching out and doing interviews, “establishing what SafeMode is,” he said. That included his outreach to the Jewish Standard, which led to this story.

Mr. Hunter is using the skills he’s learning in his Organizational Behavior 360 course. The business school stresses collaboration; he appreciates the chance Tamid offers him to lead a team. “That’s not how we are taught,” he said.

So here’s the SafeMode story.

It starts, Mr. Hunter said, with “$70 billion annually in avoidable costs in the trucking industry.” That includes the costs of accidents.

“It’s a large market,” Mr. Hunter said.

SafeMode “is a software company that automates the job of a fleet manager. It helps firms monitor their drivers with the goal of improving safety. It accesses the cameras and sensors of different trucks, and drivers can access their driver data through the app. A lot of companies incentivize their drivers for safe driving, but it’s not always followed up on.”

SafeMode claims that by monitoring drivers and rewarding them for safe practices, it’s been able cut fuel consumption by 4 percent and increase safety by 30 percent.

“That’s a lot of money for fleets,” Mr. Hunter said. “It saves millions of dollars annually in repairs and in lawsuits.”

Mr. Levy, SafeMode’s CEO, said the origins of the company came three months before he finished his IDF service, when a friend’s mother was killed by a drunk driver.

How could he make the world safer?

Mr. Levy connected with Dr. Erez Shmueli, a researcher in behavioral economics connected to the MIT Media Lab. “He researched how we can change human behavior to shift drivers to drive more safely and more efficiently,” Mr. Levy said. “He joined me, and this is where we started to build the project.”

These days, truck drivers are monitored remotely. “Every heavy duty must have a connected device that sends data about the hours the driver drives,” Mr. Levy said. That’s the most basic component of the monitoring. But trucking companies have installed monitors that detect speeding, acceleration, the distance the driver is keeping from other vehicles, and even cameras to track the driver’s alertness.

That’s a lot of data. “Fleet managers are overwhelmed,” Mr. Levi said. “We take all the data and bring it to the driver. We provide an app for the driver to open after every shift and see how they drove, and what they earned as a result of their behavior. They drove more efficiently, or had fewer breaking or speeding events.

“The driver gets actual rewards based on their improvement, so they want to improve. For the first time, a driver gets positive engagement from their manager.”

SafeMode recently partnered with Volvo.

“Volvo makes a lot of 18 wheelers,” Mr. Hunter said. “They’re starting to make SafeMode standard on a lot of their trucks.”

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