Full Steam Ahead: The Millennial Trains Project

Millennial Trains
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Caboose exteriorWhat better way to get your business idea on track than to hop on board a train of young entrepreneurs? On August 8th, 20 lucky movers and shakers will do just that on The Millennial Trains Project, aka “the nation’s first crowd-funded, transcontinental train journey for enterprising millennials.” Starting in San Francisco, the 10-day trip will stop in Salt Lake City, Denver, Omaha, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and D.C. As the train travels through each city, the participants will work with on-board mentors and explore the communities they visit as part of their projects. (To be chosen, each person had to pitch a project, as well as raise $5,000.) Pretty cool, right?

We chatted with the guy behind it all, Patrick Dowd, to learn a little more about this awesome project, which was inspired by the Jagriti Yatra (a similar project in India which Dowd helped spearhead as a Fulbright scholar). Find out what happens when the caboose is set loose!

Why a train? How does this kind of travel connect with service?

Patrick: Traveling on a train has a very unique ability to connect travelers to the landscape, their fellow passengers and communities in a way you can’t get from any other form of transportation. In America, trains connect us to our pioneering past.This August, 20 Millennials will explore new frontiers by traveling on the 150-year old transcontinental railroad and take on the challenges that are key to future of our nation. Just as important is the fact that trains are among the most sustainable forms of transportation. We look forward to exploring the topic of sustainability throughout the journey.

We look at the first journey this August as an experiment to learn from and build upon in the future. We are collaborating with a diverse number of leading institutions including Startup America, The American Sustainable Business Council, National Geographic Traveler, and City Year, among many others.

Why do applicants have a fundraising requirement (rather than just
buying in)?

Patrick: We are highlighting our applicants and their stories on traditional social channels, like Facebook and Twitter. Beyond those channels, the crowdfunding platform we built has been an incredible way to grow our community.

Unlike traditional application processes, we wanted to develop something that was accessible, engaging and sharable. The crowdfunding platform is built on the notion of community. Our applicants were able to propose their projects and fundraise by sharing their ideas with the public, friends and family. The first 20 applicants who reached their fundraising goals earned a spot on the train.

The fact that we had over 1,000 individuals invest in making this project a reality demonstrates a groundswell of support for this idea of using trains to explore America’s new frontiers, in the company of other people from diverse backgrounds who similarly care about the future of our country.

Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 9.58.53 PMHow will the participants spend their days?

Patrick: We’ll travel by night, stopping each day in a different city. Three things happen each day: a “local innovation showcase” where we see what interesting new things are starting to crop up in each community, followed by six hours of free time where participants advance their own projects. The third part happens back on the train where we have seminars from distinguished guest speakers responding to the prompt, “Where are the new frontiers?”

Are there specific ways that the participants will be encouraged to
collaborate with one another?

Patrick: The train journey fosters community and collaboration by design and that’s exactly what we want.  Our participants will begin and end each day together on the train, and more importantly, face the challenge of launching their projects on a national scale together. As these 20 incredible Millennials go through this journey, they will be building connections with each other, new people in each city and experience new challenges. This journey is about building leaders who really appreciate that connection, and inspiring others to have faith in America¹s future.

How will the organizers measure the success of the project?

Our participants are using technology (both digital and industrial) to explore their very diverse aspirations on a national scale. What that all adds up to remains to be seen, because ultimately this is a very user generated project. Each participant has defined their own challenge and established their own set of goals.

For example, Sacha Simmons’s project, Sweat Everyday, is about cultivating a healthy, sustainable and well-rounded active lifestyle that works. She will connect with diverse fitness communities by visiting studios and gyms to learn more about active living across the country. Sacha will launch her web series Sweat Everyday on the train, partnering with local production companies to create episodes that capture the spirit of the city and adventure of the whole trip.

Another participant, Katelyn Bryant-Comstock, a professional in the reproductive health field, is shedding light on the obstacles that prevent youth access to contraception. By speaking with youth across America, she hopes to expand the dialogue about barriers youth face and spark innovative youth-led initiatives to increase access to contraceptives. Her blog of the journey will become a platform for these important dialogues. She hopes to deliver her findings to local health departments, national agencies and public health officials.

Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 9.58.14 PMCan our readers follow the progress of the train in any way?

Patrick: Our mission is to enable passengers and virtual audiences to come together. Audiences across the nation can follow the Millennial Train from San Francisco to Washington, DC on Twitter @MillennialTrain and on Facebook/millennialtrain, on YouTube, and other media channels.

In addition, our 20 participants have 20 unique approaches to sharing their content with digital audiences. We look forward to sharing the experience of the challenges and opportunities we encounter in communities where our trains stops.

We invite audiences to continue to follow us for future journeys in 2014.

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