When Reed Hastings, Jeff Bezos and other titans gather with 3,500 invited attendees at next month's Summit Series ideas festival in Los Angeles, they're as likely to be questioned about stock performance as they are about the value of a daily meditation practice or even which Korean taco truck they like the most.
Founded nine years ago by five entrepreneurs, Summit has come into its own as an innovation confab that skews younger and less-buttoned-up than TED or Aspen Ideas but is equally high-minded. Picture Davos weekend at Burning Man. The organization's mission "to catalyze entrepreneurship, creative achievement and global change for a more joyful world." It draws on a worldwide community of some 20,000 invited members ranging from the likes of Richard Branson and Google chairman Eric Schmidt to magicians, athletes, chefs and Instagram influencers.
Carving a niche in the crowded realm of "thought leadership" conferences takes connections, savvy and more than a little chutzpah. Summit started in 2008 when five friends in their 20s — Ryan Begelman, Elliott Bisnow, Brett Leve, Jeff Rosenthal and Jeremy Schwartz — cold-called entrepreneurs they admired and invited them to Park City, Utah, for a weekend. Later that year, the group held a similar gathering in Mexico.
In 2009 the Obama administration asked Summit to curate a meeting at the White House between senior officials and 35 young entrepreneurs. The following year, Summit held DC10, a three-day conference in Washington, D.C., for 750 people, with participants including former President Bill Clinton, Ted Turner and John Legend.