Don’t hate, opto-isolate! – Update from South Africa INSiAVA IBD Team

FTMBA students Petar Kralev, Luke Baran, Matthew Hahn, Lucy Hakobyan and Chris Kavcsak spent 3 weeks in South Africa working with INSiAVA a fabless semiconductor start-up that owns and develops silicon light emitting and detecting technology in standard CMOS.


Week 1:

Work hard play hard was definitely the motto of our team and client. Working late nights at the Innovation Hub was well balanced with weekend trips to Cape Town and the South African bush. From constructing the framework equivalent of the movie Inception (frameworks within frameworks within yet more frameworks) in countless powerpoint slides that literally took us to the brink of a Google Slides implosion, to consuming previously unfathomable amounts of red meat and pinotage that are sure to give us heart attacks within 3 months, team INSiAVA was well-immersed in South African culture.

We started off the first week with a heavy 8-hour marathon of a design thinking session with INSiAVA’s CEO and Head of Engineering, which ultimately culminated in a strong value proposition presentation validated by several local customer interviews.



Weekend 1:

To celebrate our great work, we flew to Cape Town that weekend where we sabred bottles of champagne on the terrace of our private 3 bedroom waterfront mansion villa. Don’t worry, we’re professionals.


The next morning we summited Table Mountain, conquering one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. From the top we enjoyed incredible views of the city and the grandiose Lion’s Head peak.



Between delicious authentic African dinners on the waterfront and sophisticated drinks with live music at the hotel, we also managed to mix it up with the local party scene on Long Street, which had a distinctively Bourbon Street feel.


To end the weekend on a strong note, we started with a breakfast of champions – ice cream – on top of Signal Hill, immediately before jumping off a cliff with parachutes strapped to our backs. Paragliding down to the Sea Point gave us 360 degree views of the city and the mountain, the serenity of which was counter-balanced by our immediate regret of crushing copious amounts of frozen dairy before extreme motion and moments of weightlessness.


Week 2:

The following Monday marked the start of another week of top notch work. After several customer and potential partner meetings and interviews, we strove toward validating the value propositions from the previous week. Next up was the Go-to-Market Strategy…which we crushed, as per usual.

Thursday evening we joined forces with our fellow IBDers,, at Capital Craft Brew Academy, a local drafthouse serving up South Africa’s finest microbrews and BBQ. Much to our surprise, South Africa has a vast and pretty darn tasty craft brewing scene. Comparing notes on our experiences thus far we realized that their project was a complete and utter softball. Seriously, from what we can gather they color and take pictures all day. Matthew took away the gold medal for the evening, crushing an entire kilo of beef and an entire platter of gin.


This was of course only to get inspiration to educate our classmates on two chip opto isolators that operate on low voltage low speed on a simple CPU.


And as a testament to the amazingness of the exchange rate, each person spent less than $20.

Weekend 2:

That weekend, our client team took us for a more unique adventure to experience the African wild. INSiAVA graciously hosted us at a private game reserve that is part of the larger Kruger National Park. We went on harrowing game drives that made as though we were part of a National Geographic expedition chasing majestic animals like Elephants, Kudu, and the rare African Wildcat in their natural habitat.



To reflect on our near death experiences, we spent an evening having a traditional braai out in the bush under the most incredible starry night anyone has ever seen. Literally, ever. As the local African wine guided us toward pondering the heavens, we spent hours stargazing and learning about the astrological signs along with useful navigational skills which will surely be used in the near future.


As an environmentally conscious Berkeley student, Chris was deeply troubled by the drought and lack of food strangling the surrounding animals. And when Chris sees a problem, he solves it. After what we can only assume was an intense design thinking process that took place in his head, Chris came to an innovative solution. He gave his dinner back to a nearby bush and watered the plants a bit. This last part may have been a bit misguided as it may have been perceived as a territorial threat to the dominant male rhino in the area, but it’s safe to say he took one for the planet.


Week 3:

During the last week of our IBD project, we visited the Industrial Development Corporation and learned about the strategic investments in the economy of South Africa. Heavy stuff. To unwind, we had a delicious lunch under the supervision of no other than Nelson Mandela in Mandela square of Johannesburg.


The culminating field trip of the week was a tour of University of Pretoria, which gave us perspectives into the education and social developments since Apartheid. Oh and there was Steers, the local equivalent of Burger King. Check it off the bucket list.


And we always remembered to stop for #selfies.


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