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The Roots, Richard Branson Headline “Mind-Blowing” Summit At Sea

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Lee Brenner


By Lee Brenner on April 11, 2011


As The Roots jam into their 6th song of their first 60+ minute set and the lyricist is just ramping up his performance by hopping around the stage like a bouncing ball, the electric instruments stop pushing out sound. After about two seconds, the realization comes that it was just a blown circuit, and the stage hands are scrambling in the back to fix the problem.

The multi-talented ?uestlove doesn’t seem phased and knocks his sticks to his drum to re-start the beat. The 1000 hand-picked (mostly young) entrepreneurs, non-profit leaders, oceanographers, actors, artists, and technology innovators let out a joyful roar and simply continue to shake, sweat, and sing along in unison on a custom-built dance floor and stage for this 3-night voyage on top of the 11th floor pool of the Celebrity Century cruise ship.

For the next 3 minutes, the ocean breeze flows through the darkness of the Caribbean, and an audience that spends its days on this ship listening and questioning fellow attendees about everything from saving the oceans (Dave Gallo) to regenerative medicine (Aubrey de Grey of SENS) to social entrepreneurship (Blake Mycoskie of Tom’s Shoes) to overcoming adversity (the amazing Sean Stephenson) to building corporate empires while living well-rounded lives (Richard Branson, Russell Simmons, Tony Tsieh) to meditation (Lama Tenzin) to giving back to the international community (Ellen Gustafson & Barbara Bush) rocks out to a drum battle on stage. The show must go on. The performers on stage and the audience on the dance floor are the leaders taking our world into tomorrow, and they demand it. This was Summit at Sea.

Summit at Sea touched back at the Port of Miami on Monday. The most recent iteration of this now annual conference is the brain-child of four friends, Elliott Bisnow, Brett Leve, Jeffery Rosenthal and Jeremy Schwartz, along with a team of 20 that live a self-proclaimed “nomadic lifestyle,” as recently reported in Forbes.

They’ve curated a collection of leaders at the epicenter of global change, many well-known entertainers and CEO’s (Pitbull, Kristen Bell, Branson, Simmons, etc) and even more that are change-makers without the name recognition. That’s the best part of these events. Since everyone has been hand picked, you can walk up to any table or group, introduce yourself, and most will acknowledge that you could be creating the “next big thing.”

Sure there are plenty of egos in a group like this, and more than a few people who introduce themselves with the amount of their last Series A raise, but then there are speakers like Sean Stephenson and Gary Vaynerchuck who are there to remind this group that the person who you may not know and not seeking out to speak with could easily be your next boss, partner or competitor.

On the final full day of the trip, the ship stopped at Celebrity Cruise’s private island playground at Coco Cay, where seminars continued on the beach. Lessons came from Tim Ferris (Author of “The 4-Hour Body”) on weight loss and female orgasm; from Dhani Jones and Natalie Spilger on pro-athlete workouts; from Ken von Roenn on lucid dreaming, and from Mike Kim on escaping North Korea, amongst 20 or so others. Oh…and there was a small group that went shark tagging. Yes, shark tagging.

This is my 2nd Summit Series event to have been invited to and although I have been critical in the past of lack of minorities and overall diversity at DC10, I am honored to have been invited and surrounded by a group of such talented people. And since any growing business sometimes needs harsh customer feedback to improve, the Summit Series team should demand it from this group of experts. From the looks of the increasing levels of minority and female “Summiteers,” the 20-member Summit leadership team is clearly listening. They’ve upped their game with this last event.

At the end of the final day as the sun-crisped and mentally-blown Summiteers left the beach to re-board the ship for its final evening sail, I stopped Jeff Rosenthal, one of the Summit’s co-founders who has shaggy hair, a constant smile, a genuine easy-going vibe that makes the people around him comfortable and a moustache that can either scream 21st century guru or 70’s porn star (I’m guessing he’s going for guru). In his bio, Jeff describes himself as “a business hippie, an upside-down dreamer, and loves nothing more than creating mutually beneficial relationships between Summit Series community members.” When I told Jeff they had done a great job and had definiitely improved from last year, he said in a soft tone that he “truly appreciated it.” I could read in his eyes that he knew the team had put something special together in this event.

Even after returning to DC from Miami, the contagious spirit that was ever-present for 4 days on the boat continued in a shared taxi from Reagan National. Four of us: a Google executive; a musician that started a non-profit to make classical music “cool” for kids; a marine biologist, and I plotted our next gathering. When one stepped out of the taxi, he referred to the epic journey the attendees have just taken in a semi-joking, half-awake murmur: “My new friends: Its been fun. Definitely see you all soon. Its the end of an era.”

With a dose of hope, enthusiasm, plenty of “cheese” and a healthy helping of snark, I responded, “No, buddy, its the beginning of an era.”

Lee Brenner is Co-Founder and Publisher of HyperVocal and had his mind blown at Summit-at-Sea. Follow him on Twitter @deepdishpol. Read his full HV archive here.

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