Investors and innovators have a new social playground in America’s newest mountain village. Summit Series, host of a popular annual conference known for mixing revelry and social good, such as flying in Richard Branson to deliver a keynote on a Caribbean cruise ship, is creating a permanent settlement for the mission-driven organization on Powder Mountain in Eden, Utah.
“Imagine authentic friendship and community of something like Burning Man, but with deeper substance, a la a TED,” explains investor Tim Chang, managing director of the Mayfield Fund, who has convened a few gatherings up at Summit’s temporary lodge. After months of business news speculation about the (reported) $40 million mountain project, Summit has revealed plans to build a 500-home village to foster startups, artists, thinkers, and nonprofits who will build their own version of utopia.
Summit Series began as an intimate conference to convene young, socially conscious entrepreneurs, including TOMS shoes founder, Blake Mycoskie–all of whom have a “work hard, think hard, play hard” mentality, explains X Prize founder, Peter Diamandis. It quickly gained prominence for its special mix of notable keynote speakers who would join in unusually fun activities from shark tagging in the Caribbean to lucid dreaming tutorials in Tahoe.
With notable names came indirect financial impact: Summit has raised money for startups from taxi service, Uber, to eyeware outlet, Warby Parker, and they even raised $1 million from investors, such as Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, to preserve an ocean habitat in the Bahamas.
The team got a tip on some relatively cheap land outside Salt Lake City and were inspired to build a permanent home. “What if Summit wasn’t just four days a year? What if you could actually build a permanent place that could actually gather folks 365 days a year,” says Summit Series founder Elliott Bisnow.
“One of the best ways to really get to know somebody is to go outside the boardroom, go outside the pitch meeting, and get outside of just the conferences,” says Chang, who sees the new mountain village as a place to gather potential partners with an eclectic crowd for some secluded big thinking. “The community portion — the networking, the people — that could be even more valuable than just the straight return on investment for a vacation property.”
Every aspect of the new village will be open to social experimentation, like building a healthier version of a local bakery, and the Summit team wants to allow its meticulously curated community to pilot elements of a typical city.
Despite the social focus, Summit Series is a for-profit business. The majority of investment has been reportedly raised through selling plots of land to big-ticket investors who want an unorthodox vacation home. Continued revenue will stream in through the ski resort of Powder Mountain (the largest ski mountain in the United States, with 10,000 acres), conference hosting, and, perhaps, taking cuts of startup investments.
So, like any for-profit venture, the mountain project is a big economic bet. What gives anyone confidence that a few starry-eyed 20-somethings can pull off the project? “I’m very optimistic because of what they’ve done so far,” says Diamandis. “The experience that they’ve created has been top-of-the-game.” He concludes, “Frankly, I wish it was something, when I was in my mid-20s, I had thought of doing.”
[Image Credit: Stan Evans, Powder Mountain]