Startup Snapshots: Glamping luxury

By: Dick Anderson
Startup Snapshots: Glamping luxury

Robert Frisch, MBA ’13, Firelight Camps

If your ideal camping companion is Gwyneth Paltrow — not Bear Grylls — then Firelight Camps may be your ecotourism destination. Located on the grounds of Ithaca’s La Tourelle Resort and Spa, the elevated campground caters to an upscale clientele who are eager to commune with nature from the comfort of a luxury safari tent.

“This year we’ll have 18 tents,” says chief glamping officer Bobby Frisch, who founded Firelight Camps in 2014 with his wife, Emma (a former “Food Network Star” finalist and the camp’s culinary director). Frisch spent two years developing small businesses with the Peace Corps in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, where he and Emma also started La Buena Onda, a boutique hostel and restaurant.

The couple met as undergrads at the University of Pennsylvania, and it was rock climbing at first sight. “We’d go on long overnight camping trips — real camping — and a lot of times people wouldn’t want to join us because it was uncomfortable and they didn’t own the equipment,” Frisch says. “We wanted to bring that experience of sleeping in nature to a wider audience.”

As a graduate student, Frisch wrote a business plan for his glamping concept, finding early investors through the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. During its pilot season, Bobby and Emma set up six tents “to see how many people would show up.” Quite a few turned out — including journalist Ralph Gardner Jr., who wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “It’s a way to enjoy the great outdoors for those who consider high-thread-count sheets important.”

Could Firelight Camps be a yupscale Jellystone Park, with glampgrounds nationwide? “We do get a lot of inquiries,” Frisch says. Without the validation of his MBA, “I could have set up the tents and maybe run the operations, but certainly would have not been able to raise a large amount of money.”