Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Startup Entrepreneurship at Summer Camp in the Rocky Mountains

After finally making my way up the mountain in Golden, Colorado (just outside of Boulder) the other night, I pulled my rental car into the parking lot of Camp Inc., the world's first Jewish specialty summer camp with an emphasis on entrepreneurship. My interest was piqued half a year ago when I met with the leadership team of Camp Inc. and heard about their lofty plans for their inaugural summer. It all seemed like a great idea conceptually, but I didn't know quite what to expect when I arrived.

Camp Inc. - Jewish Summer Camp for Startups

I stepped out of the car and walked into the "Ulam" (Hebrew for meeting hall) where the music was blaring and dozens of Jewish teenage boys and girls were dancing. I was greeted by Josh Pierce, the camp director, who yelled to me over the music, "Welcome to MJ's bat mitzvah party!" The campers and staff of Camp Inc. were holding a mock bat mitzvah party for one of the camp's counselors, complete with a bat mitzvah candle-lighting ceremony, a DJ playing the standard bar mitzvah music, and the hoisting of Jewish teens in a chair for the Hora dance. Meals at Camp Inc. start and end with Jewish blessings. Morning flagpole includes several Jewish prayers and Hebrew songs. Signs around camp are in both English and Hebrew. And a number of the counselors are Israeli, part of the Jewish Agency's Summer Shlichim (emissary) Program. I have been to countless Jewish overnight camps and, at first glance, Camp Inc. seemed no different from the rest. Until...

What I then saw was amazing. At the end of the evening's activity the campers begged their counselors to not make them go back to their bunks for "lights out." However, they didn't want to go on a night hike or stay up late playing card games in their cabin. Rather, these campers pleaded with the camp staff to let them stay up for another hour so they could work on their logos for their new startup companies. These Jewish campers, ranging in age from 12-17, morphed from your typical summer campers to CEO's, CFO's and Marketing Directors right in front of my eyes. They grabbed their black leather portfolios emblazoned with the Camp Inc. logo and fully charged notebook computers and headed to their workspace. There they met with their startup teams to put the finishing touches on their logos which will be printed on different colored t-shirts for them to wear at their pitches to business mentors and startup investors at the conclusion of the camp session.

Camp Inc. campers pitch DiabeTech at a practice pitch day in Boulder, Colorado
Camp Inc. campers pitch DiabeTech at a practice pitch day in Boulder, Colorado

My second night at Camp Inc. was no different. Campers were engaged in games of kickball and volleyball, preparing for a Beit Cafe (talent show), and just hanging out in the woods by the ropes course with their friends. And then they were instructed to go rehearse their pitches with their startup teams. Groups assembled to go over the final plans before they headed to Boulder the following day for a practice pitch day. I heard teens excitedly talking about their plans to make a mobile app to help the millions of people who deal with Diabetes on a daily basis, and teens building a prototype of a car that could display rotating ads for nonprofits, and teens creating a platform to schedule meals for groups of people based on dietary restrictions, food allergies and preferences, and geography. I was blown away. There was so much creativity in the room that I was left excited to see what these young people would do in the future. And, yes, once again the campers pleaded with their counselors for some extra time before bed to work on their startup businesses. Camp Inc. is a typical Jewish summer camp... plus.

Rabbi Jason Miller with the leadership team of Camp Inc. (Dan Baer, Jonathan Lev and Josh Pierce)
With the leadership team of Camp Inc. (Dan Baer, Jonathan Lev and Josh Pierce)

During the day, I had the opportunity to meet with the high school campers and discuss the importance of social media to their startup initiatives. That evening, I met with all of Camp Inc.'s campers in K'far Baya'ar (the village in the woods), where we discussed business entrepreneurship from the Torah (Noah didn't wait until the rain started to build the ark and Abraham enjoyed a successful career as a shepherd instead of going into his father's idol business). We talked about the ethic of social responsibility in business. Many of the campers relaxed in hammocks as we discussed what they are passionate about and the challenge of making their passion contagious to others. I asked each camper to choose a person from Jewish history (from the biblical period up through modern times), come up with a business, and then offer a startup pitch as if they were that Jewish character. Standing in the woods in the Rocky Mountains I listened as the Snake from the Garden of Eden, the Prophet Jonah, Moses, Theodor Herzl, Mel Brooks and Seth Rogen enthusiastically talked about their new businesses. It was amazing. This is what a Jewish summer camp that focuses on entrepreneurship looks like!

Rabbi Jason Teaching at Camp Inc. in Rocky Mountains
Teaching at Camp Inc. in Rocky Mountains

Not all Jewish kids will get excited about an outdoor wilderness camp, a sports camp or a drama camp. The founders of Camp Inc. have hit on something big here. There is an entire cadre of Jewish youth in North America who are business savvy and eager to start their own company. Camp Inc. gives them all of the experiences of a dynamic summer camp while also providing them with a high-energy environment in which they can dream, build, and create. The future is very bright!

1 comment:

Andrew 1 said...

nice camping