When seven nice Jewish boys from America are traveling around the world trying
to connect hip, young entrepreneurs, it’s inevitable that they’ll come to Israel
sooner or later.
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The seven leaders of Summit Series, creators of a series
of conferences where they throw staid, buttoned-up networking out the window and
get CEOs to do yoga together, arrived in Israel in July.
Angeles-based Israeli actress Noa Tishby escorted them to meetings with
opposition leader Tzipi Livni, Shai Agassi of Better Place, and other leaders in
Israel’s booming start-up world.
The Summit Series organizers were blown
away by Israel’s creative entrepreneurship culture.
“The amount of people
per capita that have that entrepreneurial drive is higher here than anywhere
else,” Summit Series co-founder Brett Leve told The Jerusalem Post
They called Tel Aviv “the Miami of the Middle East,” and said it
was on their short list of places that they loved to visit.
Less than a
month later, when the electricity went out for the umpteenth time in their
rental apartment in Madrid and nothing seemed to be working out, the guys looked
at one another and said, “We have to get out of here. Where should we go next?”
They hopped on the next plane back to Israel.
“There’s such a sense of
welcoming and community here,” Thayer Walker, the group’s “grandfather” at 31,
said last week. “It’s really nice to be back. We spent three weeks here, met a
ton of people, and didn’t expect to come back when we did.”
has been creating waves in the international business community with its
unorthodox approach to connecting young leaders. The company was founded by
Elliot Bisnow, 24, who dropped out of the University of Wisconsin after two
years and ended up selling advertising at his father’s small e-newsletter
company, Bisnow Media.
Within a year, Bisnow was chief operating officer
and the company was turning a profit of $2 million per year.
about how other young CEOs were running their businesses, Bisnow cold-called
some young CEOs and invited them on an all-expenses paid ski trip to Utah, which
he charged to credit cards, hoping for the best.
A born schmoozer, he
realized the power of getting like-minded, powerful young people together for
extreme sports or other bonding experiences.
From that first ski trip,
the idea for Summit Series was born. Two years ago, he hired his childhood
friends from the Washington, DC, suburbs, left his parents’ house, and set off
on a whirlwind adventure to pursue Summit Series full-time.
Jeff Rosenthal, Jeremy Schwartz, Justin Cohen, Thayer Walker and Josh Zabar call
themselves “The Pirate Ship,” since they are nomads, spending about a month in
rented apartments in each country they visit. No one has a permanent
“I prefer [to be called] the ‘peace keeping envoy,’” Leve
The New York Times calls them a cross between the annual World
Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and MTV’s reality show The Real
Here in Israel, they’ve gained another name: The Noa Tishby
“The summit boys are young and enthusiastic, they have big dreams,
and they’re also making a real difference in the world,” Tishby said last week.
She was a lead actress in the Ramat Aviv Gimmel series, based on the American
90210, and co-producer of In Treatment, the US version of the Israeli series
She first attended a Summit Series event for female
entrepreneurs almost two years ago, and has been involved with the organization
“It didn’t make sense to me that they didn’t have a context
to have a conversation about Israel. They didn’t have a current context of what
Israel is, and to me Israel is a country with the biggest gap between perception
Tishby said that when she first heard about the group, she
couldn’t really figure out what it was about – except that the organizers were
super-enthusiastic, forceful and confident that they were going to change the
That pluck and drive has stayed with the group, who by sheer force
of confidence in their vision have the ear of world and business
At the organization’s signature event, the Summit Series
conference in Washington in May, speakers included former US president Bill
Clinton, media mogul Ted Turner, a yoga instructor who specialized in “lucid
dreaming,” hip-hop tycoon Russell Simmons and NASA astronauts. Among the
hundreds of attendees were the CEOs of Twitter, Guitar Hero, Facebook and
Craigslist. The average age was 29. Attendees paid roughly $3,500 for the
Leve said they decide whom to invite based on a series of
simple questions: “Are you moving the needle in your field? Would we care for
you as a friend? Are you a good person?” “We talk about big ideas and foster
innovation across industry segments,” Leve says.
And thanks to the
Internet, Summit Series can function from pretty much any location in the world,
including a Tel Aviv apartment one block from the beach and an ocean-front house
in Nicaragua at a surfing hot spot.
They claim that by creating a fun,
relaxed environment where the planet’s smartest innovators can mingle or go
skydiving together doesn’t just make business connections.
lifelong friends,” Leve said. “At a networking event, it’s ‘Hey, what do you
do?... This makes you classify people as specific subject
Rather than pigeonholing people into specific roles, Summit
Series take a less conventional approach: “Forget about what you do and develop
a friendship, then you can call on people because they’re friends. You gain
access to more connections and it’s a better way to base your
The group is trying to facilitate young, rich CEOs’ move
“beyond the Ferraris,” Leve said, to philanthropy and permanent social
“It’s not enough just to be competitive these days. You need to
look at all your activities and make them a net positive,” he said.
charity events, they have raised $200,000 in a night for the United Nations
Foundation and personally delivered 1,000 water purification units in
Their personal initiative and self-confidence not only gets them
the attention of leaders, it gets them pretty much wherever they want to go.
“It was wild, it was quite an experience,” said Walker,
who used his connections as a journalist to enter Gaza and meet with Hamas
“Foreign Minister” Mahmoud Zahar.
“Zahar is one of the most significant
figures in this conflict, so I wanted to hear what he had to say.
also met with a lot of young people in Gaza. The sentiment I heard was really
disenchanted with Hamas and Fatah. Young people I met were apolitically pissed
off. They were mad at everyone, and didn’t necessarily ascribe to any ideology
one way or another, except for the ideology of peace and the pursuit of a better
life, which is sort of impossible there now.”
Walker said one of the more
poignant and meaningful moments of his time in Israel was when he met with Noam
Schalit, the father of kidnapped solider Gilad Schalit, in the protest tent
outside the Prime Minister’s Residence.
“I was talking with Zahar about
Gilad, and then I’m sitting there telling Noam about my conversation with
Zahar,” he said. “It was really surreal, being an intermediary of some sort,
The Summit Series organizers are confident that as
part of changing the world, their model of connecting leaders can solve the
“I’d love to see business and
entrepreneurship used as a device for regional peace; that would be incredible,”
Walker said. “Hopefully we can help stimulate that.”
“If Summit Series
decide they want to take this on, maybe they can,” Tishby said. “As a cynical
Israeli, I would say this isn’t going to happen... but anybody that has any way
of making this happen is welcome.”
Solving the conflict aside, the
connections the group made with young Israelis will continue to flourish, Walker
said. They expect to have a strong contingent of Israelis at future conferences,
and are excited to have gotten to know a country they consider “a second
Tishby said one or two members of the group are talking about
permanently settling in Israel. They’ve also hired an Israeli to be their
in-country contact and continue to build relationships with local social
Perhaps even more important, they’ll be able to talk about
their experiences with their multitude of contacts.
“I know who they hang
out with, I know their rolodexes,” Tishby said. “And something’s going to come
up about Israel and they’re not going to be quiet.”