When Ari Ackerman first presented his idea for an Internet-based summer camp marketing company to venture capitalists, the investors weren't sure if he could succeed. But Ackerman was.
Ackerman spent 11 years of his life at camp, both as a camper and a camp counselor. And while studying at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, he spent a chunk of time researching the summer camp industry. What he found spelled opportunity: "There were all kinds of opportunities for providing technology to the industry--[to people who] either couldn't afford it or [didn't] have it yet," explains Ackerman, 31.
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After graduating from Kellogg in 1999, Ackerman got in his car and drove around the West and Midwest, visiting camps, presenting his idea to owners and getting feedback from them. "They were just real excited about the Internet in general," says Ackerman. "When they saw me excited about a concept that can bring technology to the summer camp industry, they got excited about it as well."
Armed with the suggestions and encouragement he got from camp owners, Ackerman, who ended up getting angel financing, moved to New York City and established Bunk1.com, a Web community for camps and campers. Through the site, camp owners can market their camps and search for staff, while families can find the ideal camps for their children and, while they're at camp, view pictures, read newsletters and send e-mails. "Parents absolutely love this thing," Ackerman says of the password-protected photo gallery feature that lets parents view, save and send pictures of their children at camp. "We have literally thousands of testimonials from parents saying 'Thank you so much for allowing me this window into my child's world.'"
Ackerman is happy to provide that window to parents and bring kids from around the world to summer camp. Still, the idea of owning his own camp also appeals to him. "I love what I'm doing right now because I feel the magic of summer camp," he says. "But one day in the future, it's not out of the realm of possibility that [I'll] get into the ownership side of the summer camp business."