A banner for the project on the train used for the last cross-country trip.
BY JESSICA PLAUTZ
When Patrick Dowd traveled to India on a Fulbright scholarship in 2010 to help lead the Jagriti Yatra — a train trip across India that encourages enterprise in small towns — he was inspired by the people he saw bringing ideas to life.
So inspired, in fact, that after less than a year on Wall Street he quit his job to create a similar project in the United States. Last summer, he and his team launched the Millennial Trains Project, a train ride taking participants from coast to coast and encouraging enterprise by supporting millennials' ideas.
The project is an incubator, similar in structure to startup incubators in the Bay Area and elsewhere that provide support for fledgling entrepreneurs and companies. What stands out about the Millennial Trains Project is its focus on community building, as well as Dowd and his team's efforts to bring innovation to U.S. cities that don't generally attract many entrepreneurs.
The inaugural train trip in August of 2013 took participants from San Francisco, California, to Washington, D.C., stopping in Salt Lake City, Utah; Denver, Colorado; Omaha, Nebraska; Chicago, Illinois and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania along the way.
Matthew Stepp, a participant last year, took the opportunity to tour national energy laboratories at each stop. He was able to meet with local innovators and, following the trip, wrote the America Innovates Act. The bill is now on the Senate floor.
Dowd said that the second trip will build on the success of the first. Millennial Trains Project is still small compared to Jagriti Yatra, which takes about 450 young people on each journey around India.
In addition to Portland and New York, the cities the train will stop in this summer include Seattle, Washington; Whitefish, Montana; St. Paul, Minnesota; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Detroit, Michigan and Cleveland, Ohio.
At each stop, participants have about six hours to visit and work on their project. That's in addition to the time they have to work on the train. Although the projects are the reason for the trip, passengers are also given the chance to enjoy traveling across the country.
Anyone between 18 and 34 years old can apply and will qualify after reaching a fundraising goalof $5,000, the metric the project uses to prove an idea is worthy and that the applicant is dedicated to making it happen. Would-be participants have until July 1 to qualify.
The projects that have already qualified for this year's trip include an emergency preparation and disaster preparedness simulation inspired by the idea of a zombie apocalypse, and a mini-series about community-building small businesses in the United States.
Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.