SECOND PLACE: SUMMER CAMP LIVE

Couple forges a connection between summer camp fairs and virtual realm

 

Summer Camp Live is an online directory and virtual event space for summer camps.

Special to the Miami Herald

Vicky di Colloredo-Mels worked as a camp referral agent traveling back and forth to Latin America. Quickly, she saw a need to streamline the connection between families and summer camps.

Despite her travel schedule and busy life as a mother of two, she co-founded Summer Camp Live, an online directory and virtual event space for summer camps with her husband, Carlo di Colloredo-Mels. Their goal: reduce marketing, travel and referral-agent costs while increasing camper enrollment.

Summer Camp Live’s team won second place in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge’s FIU Track. “They have identified an opportunity that is underserved and are well on their way to proving their business model,” said Robert Hacker of GH Capital and a veteran Challenge judge.

The co-founders noted their platform’s unique features. “Online directories have heavy subscription fees and the user still has to do a lot of the leg work,” said Vicky di Colloredo-Mels, who has a bachelor’s in management from FIU and has worked in the summer camp, education and banking industries. “Summer Camp Live ... works in a more efficient manner with industry experts and has a much wider reach.”

Summer Camp Live allows users to search for camps and live-chat with directors like a physical camp fair, but the virtual booths are open 24/7 year-round. The site includes camps in Latin America, the U.S. and Europe.

Since summercamplive.com’s April 2013 launch, it has registered about 3,300 camp-seekers.

Nory Contractor, a Coconut Grove resident, said Summer Camp Live helped her find a day camp for her visiting 12-year-old stepson.

“I don’t have a kid year-round, and then it comes time to find a summer camp and I’m pretty much out of the loop,” Contractor said. “The site has all the resources a parent would need from the leisure of their home. You can link to a camp’s website, watch videos and chat with someone in real-time all in one place. It’s really easy to navigate.”

Her stepson will attend a local sailing camp this summer.

The site also offers a free online directory service for camp owners. The directory currently lists camps from around the world, including the U.S., Colombia, Puerto Rico, France, Switzerland, Greece and Spain.

Felipe Ospina, Vicky di Colloredo-Mels’ managing partner, said the 40,000+-page directory is meant to encourage traffic to the virtual fair.

Thirty-three camps are currently subscribed to virtual booths. The team’s goal: 500 by 2017.

Camps can join the virtual fair with a yearly subscription ranging from $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the membership package. The team estimates this can save a residential camp on average $27,000 a year in marketing expenses, assuming referrals make up 40 percent of enrollment and traditional referral fees are 15 percent of tuition per camper.

Scott Ralls, director of SouthWoods, a sleepaway camp located in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York, subscribed to the virtual fair in the fall. While he said it is too early to hash out the numbers, “my gut tells me Summer Camp Live is something we’ll stick with.”

“Our market is all over the world, and Summer Camp Live is actively marketing in multiple places that have our customers,” Ralls said. “They did a very thorough job of looking into who we are and what we’re all about and have attracted a lot of people who are interested in our program.”

Ospina said Summer Camp Live doesn’t merely drive “clicks” to a camp website, but also provides pre-qualified leads, directly connecting parents to a camp’s booth, where they may find videos, podcasts, additional marketing material and application forms, and can schedule appointments to live chat.

While the team is targeting residential camps like SouthWoods, Vicky di Colloredo-Mels said she hopes Summer Camp Live will be a first point of contact for South Florida day camps within a few years. The online directory already features about 160 camps in Florida, with 35 percent in South Florida.

“It may take some time for people to catch on to the idea,” she said. “But when camps start asking why they’re spending all that money on marketing when there’s Summer Camp Live, we’ll know we have implemented change.”

Summer Camp Live is the only listed provider of virtual camp fairs through the American Camp Association.

The couple, Ospina and partner Juan Pablo Villegas, a management consultant and University of Miami alum, have financed the company with partner equity and are looking for potential investors to continue growing their business.

Future plans include a summer camp job fair.

Miami Herald business writer Nancy Dahlberg contributed to this report.

Read more Business Plan Challenge stories from the Miami Herald

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