5 ways Jewish summer camp is like a startup

As camps get ready to open, I am nostalgic for my time on staff. I loved working at camp, I enjoyed the open collaboration, I loved the passionate production of experiences from seemingly nothing more than an idea. Moving into the tech world these experiences translated into valuable skills. That’s because camp is just like a startup. It’s a social venture where everyone is a customer. The vision is lofty: to shape stronger, happier people. And the method is disruptive: temporary micro-communities.

Anyone who has worked at camp can recall fun-filled customer-centric days followed by nights of co-worker collaboration and passionate planning. This is just like startups. In particular, a summer camp reflects a start-up through the following qualities: 1) passionate stewardship of a niche community, 2) zealous brand evangelization, 3) lean service development, 4) open collaboration, and 5) an embrace of failure in order to find authenticity.

  1. Passionate stewardship of a niche community
    Many Social startups focus on supporting the activities or solving the problems of a niche community. Similarly, many Jewish camps operate under the auspices of a larger movement or local community, serving their youth. Camps provide a robust, inclusive experience for that niche community.
  2. Zealous brand evangelization
    Startups rely on customers to proudly announce their patronage, with the most obscure startups encouraging loud brand evangelization by its few beloved customers. All summer counselors teach the camps’ songs asserting loyalty. They lead in the creation of banners and t-shirts asserting this pride. This passionate articulation of identity betwixt bunks and among color war teams continues into fall and winter.
  3. Lean Service Production
    Startups begin with minimal viable products or deliverables using the least amount of materials or fulfilling the simplest customer desire. Similarly, camp has limited resources. Counselors learn to produce experiences starting with a conversation. They learn to quickly produce their idea with simple supplies. Many such experiences become legendary.
  4. Open collaboration
    Startups require frequent cross-disciplinary collaboration in order to solve problems. Similarly, camp productions such as color wars or the sixth-grade play require multiple groups of specialists working together. In the collaborative emergences of these experiences, counselors learn how to lead and interface with multiple groups of diverse skills. The results are priceless memories.
  5. An embrace of failure in order to find authenticity.
    A common startup motto is to fail early and fail cheaply, that risks and failure are necessary and can be taken safely. Camp is a safe environment to be oneself, to try things out, to grow. Counselors are encouraged to try out program ideas. They are supported in learning from their experiences. Counselors are pushed by their superiors and their customers to provide increasingly stronger programming.

As camper return to life beyond the routines of Zoom school, counselors will deliver something memorable. For the better part of 100 days counselors create a living village of excitement and growth out of nothing more than some idea, craft supplies, and the collaboration of their peers. It’s this passionate, lean approach to delivering an incredible experience that makes camp just like a startup. At camp you can be yourself, at camp you can fail, at camp, you can grow. Counselors live a true startup life. The skills they learn are valuable in emerging and established business environments. I cherish my memories and I am grateful for my skills.

After summer, hire a camp counselor.

About the Author
Jacob Sager is an entrepreneur, father of 4, and retired Camp Counselor. He's grew up on the internet and once made a Jewish Social Network. For now, he's imagining the Jewish future in virtual reality and in outer space. Follow him on Twitter or Linkedin for more content.
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