Summit Series: A new kind of currency
Who doesn’t want to be an entrepreneur these days?
The end result sounds ideal: doing exactly what you want to do. Of course getting a business up and running is incredibly tough work that mostly ends in failure, but if yours is one of the rarer ones to succeed, then you have accomplished what every person dreams of — being your own boss.
Elliott Bisnow and Brett Leve, 25 and 26, created Summit Series, an event-driven company that brings together social entrepreneurs in their twenties and thirties to share their ideas and hopefully achieve a greater impact. As the name implies, Summit Series is all about gatherings.
“If you want to meet the most amazing people from the United States in their twenties and thirties that’s what Summit Series is for — and we do it in a really fun way,” said Bisnow.
The first summit, in the early spring of 2008, was just a small gathering of 19 young entrepreneurs. It was a 3-day ski trip in Park City, Utah that included Ben Lerer for Thrillist, founder of TOMS shoes Blake Mycoskie and Josh Abramson and Rick Van Veen of College Humor and Vimeo.
Initially, the conferences were a bunch of smaller ones that happened every 6 months or so, but they became so popular and successful that in just two years, the one in D.C. in May of 2010 had 750 attendees including President Bill Clinton, media mogul Ted Turner, co-founder of the Carlyle Group David Rubenstein, and many more big names. Now, with that number of guests, Summit Series puts on just one annual summit.
In order to distinguish themselves from other conference organizations like TED and PopTech, Summit Series centers the events around fun and inspiring activities like sky diving, skiing and lucid dreaming. In turn, these activities are meant to build more meaningful bond among the attendees and cement more intimate friendships.
From their events, Summit Series hopes to create a new form of currency that is a combination of the traditional social one — network, network, network — and the good old bartering system of exchanging goods for services. In Summit Series’s case, it’s exchanging good for services.
“Good will get you really far,” said Josh Zabar, one of the seven young men of Summit Series who are all in their mid-twenties. “It’s a really interesting product — creating the most interesting group of people.”
Summit Series was really born out of the desire to get a bunch of young entrepreneurs together because the group itself wanted advice and help in starting a business. From this gathering, Bisnow, who left college after the first semester of junior year to work on his business full-time, realized he was creating a peer group of young entrepreneurs.
“It was unbelievably helpful,” Bisnow said. “When you put innovators of change together, they’re going to figure out a way to help each other.”
The Park City gathering was so promising that six months later Summit Series planned another trip to Mexico. This time it was for 60 entrepreneurs including Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, founder of charity: water Scott Harrison, author of “The 4-Hour Workweek” Tim Ferriss and head of Adventure Ecology David de Rothschild.
“Something interesting happened at that event,” said Jeremy Schwartz, who is the chief creative officer of Summit Series. “It changed everything.”
That something was a speech given by Harrison. “It flipped a switch in everyone’s mind,” Schwartz added. “We realized there are other forms of currency in the world beside money.”
The idea that blossomed for the Summit Series team was essentially corporate responsibility — that there can be an altruistic element in business; that philanthropy and benevolence can be incorporated in business.
“It’s ethical capital,” said Zabar. “It’s running a business and making a profit, but making an impact with that profit.”
At the Mexico event, Mycoskie brought shoes for all the children in Playa del Carmen.
“The biggest takeaway from the event was that entrepreneurs didn’t know how to give back and bring this aspect of a double bottom line to their businesses,” Schwartz noted.
For Incase founder Bobby Chang, who has attended several of Summit Series’ events, that was definitely the case.
“I’ve been interested in philanthropy and changing the paradigm of giving, but my background is design so how do I help the community as a whole? How do we break down the barrier of entities?” Chang asked. “Summit Series really breaks down the barrier. They’re able to curate some of the most amazing talents.”
“It’s the idea capital — people offering expertise and the idea that a rising tide lifts all ships,” Schwartz said.
Photo caption: The Summit Series team, from left to right: Jeff Rosenthal, Brett Leve, Jeremy Schwartz, Justin Cohen, Elliott Bisnow, Thayer Walker and Josh Zabar.