It's not everyday that President Bill Clinton agrees to speak before a group of 750 entrepreneurs with a mean age under 30. Then again, it's worth mentioning that the 750 twenty-somethings in question on this particular night in Washington, D.C. are responsible for some of the country's most substantial and innovative business ventures over the last decade. Theirs are companies like SecondMarket, Feed Projects, and Vimeo--kernels of creativity that sprouted wildly successful business models (whether defined in revenues or social impact) and in most cases proved significantly disruptive to the status quo, so much so that they set a new standard for excellence.
And for what purpose had so many young people gathered from far-flung corners of the globe, descending upon the JW Marriot for a three day weekend? To attend the only "conference" (and I do use that term loosely) organized by and for the young entrepreneur, and which focuses on something much deeper than securing your next round of seed funding. Here, the point is to make friends and do good through a "spirit of collectivism"--learning by asking the question, "how can I help you?" Yes, you guessed it: 25-year-old Elliot Bisnow and Co. are at it again, producing their largest Summit Series event ever, having grown from a group of 15 in 2008, to 250 last fall, and 750 this weekend.
They're challenge will be to figure out the elusive point at which increasing size decreases the experience for attendees. But for now, these boys have figured out a unique formula--part highly-structured educational forum, part unrestricted access to the most successful and hard-to-reach people in the biz, part filtered coed mingling (and whatever fringe benefits might come along, lubricated by the copious free alcohol generously provided by event sponsor Grey Goose), and perhaps most importantly, an overwhelming sense of trust among collaborators so that ideas flow freely. And if it ain't broke...expand.
So what kind of impact can this summer camp for adults possibly have? When President Clinton climbed the stage to deliver the keynote address on Friday night, he made it clear that, if we were to take one thing from his hour with us, he hoped it would be a sense for the power the generation "with more tomorrows than yesterdays" has to reroute our nation. I can guarantee he would not have wasted his breath if he thought the audience was only interested in hearing his advice for adding a couple zeros to their net worth.
His speech was rousing and thought-provoking as it detailed the areas he thought we ought to be focusing on--innovation, putting America back in the "business of tomorrow"/creation, streamlining our ability to do business in this country, and being unafraid to play a multitude of roles in a slew of industries without fear that a lack of simple career categorization makes us any less valuable a generation than our parents' or grandparents'.
It got us thinking about the give-back element of life (charitable organizations like Charity: Water, Fallen Whistles, Invisible Children, and Nothing But Nets form a substantial population among Summit Series attendees, tribute to the founders' commitments to fostering a degree of external focus and good will), and about our own passions. Still, its most important purpose may have been to underline the theme of interdependence--essentially, "no man is an island"--that built to a crescendo over the course of the weekend.
As evidence, President Clinton's speech served the invaluable purpose of building on a speech by Ray Kurzweil, the world renowned inventor and author of "The Singularity is Near", to drive home the idea that change is within reach and necessary, and that we must work together to achieve it.
Mr. Kurzweil spoke with the group on Thursday night, enlightening us with his truly mind-boggling research on the exponential advancement of technology, and the rapid integration of technology with human, such that he expects the next thirty years to witness augmented human intelligence and performance through the use of blood cell sized computers, inserted directly into the brain (!!!). It might sound like science fiction--but think how strange the concept of a Blackberry would have seemed to Grandma Sue in 1930.
In his eyes (and he tells a very convincing tale), we are progressing towards a point of increased capability and extended lifespan where reaching age 150 is not out of the question...which makes the twenty-somethings of today the first generation that may truly have to live with the consequence of their actions. While our forebears have been able to bid this world adieu and leave a mess for their children, we may be the first to have to stick around for the show another 70 years or so. If this is going to be the case, then we certainly have incentive to improve the way we treat the earth, ourselves, and each other.
And this brings me to what I believe might be the true impact gatherings like the Summit Series stand to make. By bringing together the best and the brightest of a range of industries, and allowing them to interact in an environment guaranteed to build lasting friendships, with a focus on trust and charity, the Summit Series engineers itself as a way to break ground in terms of collaborative innovation with a purpose. By taking a magnifying glass to the connectivity--interdependence, collectivism--that binds the human race, perhaps we are meant to see that we are not as removed as we might think, and that being a part of the solution to our communal quandaries is not only admirable, it is essential for our own survival.