This summer, the first cohort of young campers will attend a beautiful camp in Boulder to start their journey as entrepreneurs.
Camp Inc. seeks to provide 7th through 12th graders with a unique Jewish summer camp experience that will spur creativity and invention through entrepreneurship. The ultimate goal of this camp for budding business leaders is to promote confidence, independence, leadership and philanthropy, all the while encouraging Jewish values in a dynamic Jewish summer camp community.
More than an MBA program for teens, Camp Inc. promises to teach practical entrepreneurship and real life start up experiences.
Josh Pierce, the chief camp officer, has a strong background in both Jewish camp and business leadership. After selling his event production company in 2011, Pierce, 35, teamed up with the Boulder Jewish Community Center where his friend Jonathan Lev serves as the executive director. Together with Camp Inc.'s Chief Operating Officer Daniel Baer, the three men have traveled the country recruiting campers, as well as startup veterans to serve as mentors and teachers for their inaugural summer: "Not only have I been doing something entrepreneurial by starting an overnight camp from scratch, I will also be able to teach teens how to start their own businesses."
The camp is looking for current Jewish 6th-11th graders who are creative, inventive and show problem-solving ability. "Essentially, we're looking for tinkerers," Pierce explains. "Our camp will appeal to those teens who are constantly asking themselves how they can perform tasks more efficiently."
The idea is that Camp Inc. will model what life should be like for a young person running a startup venture. "We're on a residential camp property with an archery range, sports fields, high ropes elements, hiking and biking," says Pierce. "Just like a real-life entrepreneur who needs breaks and a release from working on their company, campers at Camp Inc. will have plenty of time to enjoy our property's recreational activities."
Startup teams will be formed at camp with guest entrepreneurs who will visit each day to work with the campers and help these teams. Each week will culminate in a pitch day resembling the format of the "Shark Tank" reality television show. Entrepreneurs, angel investors and venture capitalists from Boulder and Denver will be on hand to field pitches from the campers. There are two pitch days in each session – the first will allow the campers to validate their idea and receive feedback from real-life entrepreneurs and investors, while on the second pitch day they can win prizes or seed money for their startup. Campers' startups can be a service or a product and can even be a nonprofit organization.
Three days of the week the campers spend their days on camp property with a healthy mix of recreational activities, cabin time and startup planning time. Two days a week they will board buses to go on experiential tours to local companies in the Boulder area where they will meet with entrepreneurs or survey individuals and receive feedback about their products.
Then there will be a full Shabbat experience in which they leave the specialty behind and celebrate the value of community and family. The camp leadership sees this as an opportunity to unplug and teach work-life balance in an entrepreneur's life. In fact, as Lev explains, "The Boulder JCC and Camp Inc. recently joined the National Day of Unplugging through Reboot."
The camp’s business specialist, Abby Schneider, has a doctorate in marketing research at the University of Colorado at Boulder and teaches university level business courses. The bunk counselor, Carolyn Shillinglaw, is a social entrepreneurship major at Tulane University with a Jewish camping background from the Reform movement's URJ camps.
While the camp is located in Boulder and plans to draw heavily from the local Denver and Boulder Jewish communities, campers are already registered from Florida, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Michigan, California, Illinois and Arizona.
"We're looking to create to the next generation of entrepreneurs that are connected to Jewish life," Lev said. "Who knows, we might just discover the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg this summer."
Rabbi Jason Miller is an educator, entrepreneur and technology writer from Detroit, Michigan. He's president of Access Computer Technology and blogs at RabbiJason.com.