Elliott Bisnow brings other young entrepreneurs together in Summit Series

By Annie Gowen in Miami
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 4, 2010

The young moguls are arriving, the soaring atrium of the Ritz-Carlton filling up fast.

Guys with shaggy hair and Vans sneakers. Women in wrappy sweaters and faux-leather stilettos. They're toting backpacks and rolling duffels, checking e-mail with the free hand.

Their average age is just 29, but many are already CEOs who have started -- and in some cases, sold -- cutting-edge companies worth millions. The "Guitar Hero" creators are here. So is the guy who sold his online ad company Advertising.com to AOL for a cool $435 million. Soon they'll go off to their rooms or huddle poolside and dream up the Next Big Thing. But now they hug and shake hands, giving the lobby the air of a college reunion.

An intense young man in surfer shorts, his eyes red from lack of sleep, moves among them, greeting everyone like an old pal. His name is Elliott Bisnow. He is 24. Just two years ago he was a University of Wisconsin dropout living at his parents' home in the District. Before that he was an unpopular tennis geek at the preppy Landon School in Bethesda.

Now he is the co-founder of the successful local e-newsletter publishing company Bisnow Media and the founder of this conference, called the Summit Series. Several times a year, Bisnow organizes a gathering for young entrepreneurs in exotic locales like Aspen or South Beach, where they can schmooze, do extreme sports, raise money for charity and hatch ventures.

Last year, the White House Office of Public Engagement thought it would be a good idea to talk to some under-40 CEOs.

They called Bisnow. In days he delivered 35, including Ivanka Trump and the guy who invented Twitter.

"Isn't there a whole atmosphere of inclusiveness here?" Bisnow says enthusiastically, as he pauses from hugs and high-fives. "It's totally the opposite of high school."

How they roll

On a quiet night before the conference, Bisnow sits down to chat in the study of his parents' home in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Northwest. His mixed-breed dog, Jinxie, is nestled at his side. His black-and-white ferret, Kanye, rustles in a cage nearby. Outside, the pool overlooking Rock Creek Park is covered for winter but surrounded in lights like something out of Hollywood.

In the other room, Bisnow's parents, Mark and Margot, are giving a dinner party. Guests are arriving and crystal glints on the table. Both are such experienced Washington hands -- Mark Bisnow, a journalist and ex-public relations man; Margot, a former federal trade commissioner -- they seem unfazed that their son is doing an interview during the party.

"We only have him for 48 hours," Margot Bisnow laments.

He's always coming and going these days, because in January, Bisnow gave up his childhood room and the Dupont Circle offices of Bisnow Media for life on the road. He is now cutting back his role in his family's venture -- Bisnow Media publishes 10 free e-newsletters on everything from real estate to the social scene -- to devote himself to planning Summit Series events full-time. He hired three of his best friends from D.C. to help him, and he and his entourage now live a "fully nomadic lifestyle" in rented apartments all over the world.

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