Published March 2019
Written by Laura Henschel, Communications Coordinator
Brian Ardavin, Innovation Academy (IA) sophomore psychology student, wanted to spend his spring break differently. He wasn’t interested in partying with friends or lounging at home—instead, he planned a trip to Costa Rica with Startup Island, an innovative program designed to bring together entrepreneurial minds to grow their personal and professional development. For Brian, the retreat ended up being one of the most impactful experiences of his entire life.
Startup Island appealed to Brian because of the core philosophy of the trip: to take ownership of all aspects of life as an entrepreneur. Though motivational speaker series, fitness workshops, adventure excursions, and cultural visits to local communities, Brian and his group of fellow student entrepreneurs were able to grow personally, professionally, and spiritually. The Costa Rican resort only enhanced the experience—volcano views from every cabin, infinity pools, seaside sunrises, and lush tropical rainforests were the backdrop for a week of innovation and realizations.
“Even though the trip is entrepreneurship-focused, you don’t need to create a company to be involved in entrepreneurship,” Brain said. “Being an entrepreneur is about being the CEO of your life. There are so many skills that entrepreneurship teaches that help you dominate your own life.”
Startup Island teaches leadership, ethics, creativity, and entrepreneurship in unique ways outside of the classroom. Brian participated in daily meditation and yoga, visits to hot springs and volcanoes, sales pitching workshops, and even a trip to a local high school to meet students and educators.
“Seeing the student culture in Costa Rica was an eye-opening experience. Everyone was so authentic and wanted to be themselves and help others. There was so much happiness, running around, playing—the teachers were even dancing with students! We lack that energy here in the U.S.,” Brian said.
Startup Island shares several parallels with the Innovation Academy. The diverse and interdisciplinary group included all walks-of-life—computer engineering, graphic design, sports, psychology, and even people that had not decided on any one interest. All were brought together to explore tools for global impact like public speaking skills, teamwork and management skills, self-confidence, and networking.
“The main goal of the trip is to understand yourself, accept yourself, and then apply yourself,” Brian said. “The atmosphere is incredible—you are surrounded by like-minded people. Everyone around you wants to help you reach your goals. That interdisciplinary mix reminded me a lot of Innovation Academy.”
After Brian’s life-changing trip, he has become a part of the Startup Island team as an ambassador for next year’s Spring Break Retreat. He hopes to bring the same transformative experience to others, and especially spreading the word at the University of Florida for students to consider from the many student travel options.
“I have been on two study abroad trips before this, but this particular trip added so much value in personal development and growth – more than my study abroad trips,” Brian said. “I think that’s mostly due to the community and intimacy between the people while I was with there. Startup Island is a truly special and unique experience.”