WHAT DO RICHARD BRANSON, a 7-foot-long sandbar shark, and the Dalai Lama’s spiritual adviser have in common? They’re all going to be at Summit at Sea, a conference of bright-eyed adrenaline junkies being buzzed about as “the next TED” and “Davos for the Y generation.” Started by 25-year-old serial entrepreneur Elliott Bisnow and his best friends, the summit offers a weekend packed with big names, big parties, outdoor activities, and spiritual self-help that’s designed to scratch every possible itch that an ambitious and self-indulgent group of millennials might have. This year’s carefully curated list of attendees is a mashup of suits (Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo; Shona Brown, senior vice president of Google; Beth Comstock, chief marketing officer of GE), technorati (Kevin Rose, CEO of Digg; Caterina Fake, cofounder of Flickr and Hunch), do-gooders (Charles Best, founder of DonorsChoose.org; Blake Mycoskie, founder of Toms Shoes), and music luminaries (Russell Simmons, Dr. Luke).
“We’re a Large Hadron Collider for people of our generation,” says Jeff Rosenthal, Summit at Sea cofounder. “We help the most epic people in the world do more epic shit.” For the most extravagant iteration of the three-year-old event, that means 1,000 summiteers are expected to pay $3,500 each to take a 14-story ocean liner to a private island in the Bahamas. Daily meditation is followed by expert panels on altruism, revelry, and innovation; shark-tagging; and partying in the 24-hour music pavilion, headlined by the Roots. If it seems over the top, that’s the whole point.
“It’s all work and all play, 24/7,” Rosenthal says. “When you have lucid-dreaming gurus and past presidents doing things they’ve never done before, it leads to crowd-accelerated innovation for everyone involved. Our goal is to catalyze as much change in the world as possible by connecting dreamers and doers.”
Last year, in Washington, D.C., those dreamers and doers raised $600,000 for child soldiers in Uganda and for the Conrad Foundation, a program for high-school entrepreneurs. This year, the summit is turning its attention to the sea. The team has been stationed in Florida since October, aggressively recruiting for the event while kiteboarding and tagging sharks with marine biologists at the University of Miami. Natalie Spilger, a past attendee and a professional soccer player who founded the not-for-profit GreenLaces, was hired to lead the summit’s environmental initiatives. First up: “We’re going to offset carbon emissions from the ocean liner and make sure most of the fish on the menu are sustainable,” she says.
Why the obsession with the ocean? “It’s the most important issue in the world, and it’s on the brink of collapse,” says Thayer Walker, the company’s director of reconnaissance. “Without a healthy ocean, there’s no healthy business.” And there’s no point to business without a heavy dosage of hedonism.