Elliot Bisnow's Summit Series
by CHRISTIE FINDLAY
FROM LEFT: Jeremy Schwartz, Elliott Bisnow, Jeff Rosenthal and Brett Leve
Three years ago Elliott Bisnow was a college dropout working in his family business. Now he and his three best friends—Jeff Rosenthal, Jeremy Schwartz and Brett Leve—are jet-setting entrepreneurs. They live in Aspen, Nicaragua, South Beach... wherever their mood takes them that month. Along the way, they find new pals like Lauren Bush, Russell Simmons and Twitter cofounder Evan Williams.
Twice a year they invite these friends, many of whom are twenty- or thirtysomething moguls worth hundreds of millions, to an exotic locale for a few days of schmoozing, philanthropy and adventure sports. These Summit Series events, which the four have dubbed a “mutual aid society for young entrepreneurs,” have garnered gushing profiles in The New York Times and The Washington Post. But while those papers have breathlessly reported the friends’ White House visits, they’ve missed the big story: These guys are redefining what it means to be young and wealthy by focusing on promoting those who thrive, emotionally and financially, by doing good.
“We consider Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen the biggest heavy-hitter we know,” says Bisnow. “He invented the Permanet, those insecticide-injected mosquito nets that prevent malaria in Africa. He saves millions of lives a year and is one of the world’s leading humanitarian entrepreneurs.” By having Frandsen at their Summit Series events, Bisnow hopes to spread goodwill. “We want to inspire the attendees,” he explains.
Rosenthal says that while team members now encourage others to launch charitable efforts, the group didn’t start out so philanthropically minded. The aha moment, he reveals, came at their second Summit event in Mexico, amid talks about money, cars, spending and nightclubs.
Scott Harrison, who’d been a club promoter making millions and dating supermodels, stood up to speak. “He woke up one morning and was like, ‘My life is vapid and ridiculous, and I don’t help anyone besides myself,’” Rosenthal recalls. “In one year he launched Charity: Water and built wells that gave nearly a million people clean drinking water. That changed our entire lives and it changed the Summit Series.”
Today the Summit Series team is creating a fellowship with Unicef that will send young entrepreneurs to developing nations to help villagers start their own businesses. They’ve raised $265,000 for the Clinton Foundation. They raised $200,000 for the United Nations Foundation in a single night and have set up more than 100 meetings between the foundation and Summit Series attendees.
“Hopefully we’re having an impact on what our generation will think of as cool going forward,” Rosenthal says. “Because once you see that light— wow, there are other currencies in the world that are maybe more valuable than cash—it changes your life.” Visit thesummitseries.com for details.
PHOTOGRAPH BY SETH BROWARNIK/RED EYE PRODUCTIONS
We go behind the scenes with the SNL Weekend Update anchor.