10 memories from Happy Startup Summercamp 2018

Photo courtesy of Kathryn Sheridan.

The poignant, the bizarre and the hilarious. And a urinal. Is this the most extraordinary business event on the planet?


I’d been at Summercamp for precisely 24 hours when I was first moved to tears. It’s easy to be sceptical about ‘white saviours’ who ‘know what’s best’ for for bewildered ‘under privileged’ people. That scepticism is often justified, but Ash Perrin isn’t like that. His story wasn’t about grand development plans, but 10 years of simply bringing the universal fun of clowning to over 100,000 refugee children.


Silent disco at sunrise. Photo: Carlos Saba

At 7:00 on Saturday morning, sleepy heads gathered outside the main tipi for a silent disco. The rising sun was casting long but shrinking shadows on the ground and bathing us in golden light as the chilly air warmed up. With the right company and music (thanks DJ Henry) it’s amazing how fast inhibitions disappear. At some point I was handed a pair of Love Specs which I thought were just novelty sunglasses but actually turn your vision into what can only be likened to an intense acid trip. I was completely sober and grinning like a lunatic.


Real money changing hands during the Money Game. (Photo: Tom Nixon)

I hosted a couple of workshops on the nature of money and the human relationship to it. We used money as a way in to explore our identity: Who we want to show up as in life, and the identities we are suppressing. It’s a wonderful way to discover more about yourself and break old stories that don’t serve you. Outside the workshops I had lots of one-on-one conversations with people and I’ll never forget the moment when a new friend had a moment of clarity and shouted “I’m a trashy Essex girl and I fucking love it!” Simultaneously accepting a part of themselves they felt ashamed of, and knowing they were of course so much more than just that. Wonderful.


On Friday night, Nigel Berman from School of the Wild took 20 of us on a silent night walk through the countryside outside camp. We had no torches and experienced moments of complete pitch blackness where every other sense became heightened. Tramping through woods in the darkness gave me a strong sensation of being part of a herd of animals, navigating only by listening for footsteps crunching leaves in front of us to guide our way…


…Then returning to camp and within seconds joining a conga line on the dance floor. The wild animal in me suddenly startled.


Dawn at Summercamp. Photo courtesy of Dylan Jones-Evans.

Watching a new entrepreneur’s face light up as it gradually dawned on her that all of the intimidating little barriers and unknowns around getting their business started were easily overcome. She just needed to focus on her first customer and giving them something brilliant. Everything else could be worked out as she went along. Massively inspiring.


Photo: Morning Gloryville.

I’m fascinated by the special role that founders play in realising big ideas. Not hero entrepreneurs or dictators, but vulnerable visionaries who start with their own need, draw in others who share it, and start something incredible to fulfil it. Samantha Moyo’s story of founding Morning Gloryville (and leaving it) had it all.


Photo by Laurence McCahill

There’s no doubt that those of us at Summercamp are privileged yet we also heard stories from people like Kofi Oppong who made an extraordinary life for himself from homelessness. And as the campers took it in turns to announce topics for the Open Space I felt humbled to hear from a care worker of 18 years desperate to find ways to support the underpaid, overworked people who look after the most vulnerable people in society. Yes, Summercamp is unashamedly an event for “business hippies.” And it’s also for people working directly at the coalface of the most pressing issues in the world today.


Photo courtesy of Kathryn Sheridan.

Jumping into the incredibly cold lake straight out of the wood-fired sauna. Then repeating twice more (with hilarious banter with my sauna-mates in-between.)


Apologies, this last one happened at a urinal. I’m standing there wearing headphones playing music from the Stick it On disco. My friend Chris Drummond appears at the urinal next to me also wearing headphones. We did that male thing of nodding recognition at each other, then at the precise moment our eyes met, the music suddenly changed and we had a soundtrack of “Love is in the air. Everywhere I look around.” Yes, we pissed ourselves laughing.

Photo courtesy of Kathryn Sheridan.

P.S. Earlybird tickets for Summercamp 2019 are on sale. See you there.

Tom Nixon is the founder of Maptio — the online tool for organisations scaling without traditional management hierarchy. Visualise everyone’s roles and how the overall vision breaks down into the smaller things. Tom’s also a coach and advisor to founders developing purposeful endeavours.