Among the biggest hits of the just-wrapped Colorado Innovation Network Summit was a ten-year-old boy from East L.A. Caine Monroy is the star of the short film Caine's Arcade (watch it below), which tells of how he built an arcade out of cardboard boxes in his dad's used auto parts store. The film went viral when it was posted online more than a year ago and Caine has since become a poster child for the power of entrepreneurship and imagination.
This week, he told a room of adults to never give up.
It's the most important of the five lessons-learned that he jotted down on an Air France barf bag while flying home after being the youngest-ever speaker at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity -- and the one he'll keep in mind when he starts his next business, to be called Caine's Bike Shop.
Sitting on a leather couch before an auditorium full of leaders in business and government (including Governor John Hickenlooper), Caine let filmmaker Nirvan Mullick do most of the talking. Mullick met Caine when he stopped by Caine's father's store to buy a door handle for his '96 Corolla and came upon the boy's arcade. It turned out that Mullick was the very first customer of Caine's Arcade (the auto parts store received few walk-ins) and after buying a "Fun Pass" good for five hundred turns at the homemade games, Mullick asked Caine's dad if he could make a short film about Caine's Arcade.
It was an instant success, racking up millions of views. The media caught on and celebrities like Justin Timberlake tweeted it out. Mullick set up a website to raise money for a college scholarship fund for Caine and within a day, the total had reached $60,000. The next day, another $110,000 came in. Today, the fund is up to $235,211.
Even better, Mullick said, the film inspired "this really magical response from kids." Youngsters around the country began building their own games out of cardboard boxes. "I love your arcade," says one kid in a video to Caine. "You're just famous."
That response inspired Mullick to start a nonprofit called the Imagination Foundation, whose goal is to encourage creativity in kids. On October 5, the foundation will host its second Day of Play, which celebrates the "awesome creations" kids have made out of cardboard. The goal this year is to have one million participants in seventy countries.
"I want to share something that Caine's dad told me," Mullick said to the business leaders. "Before this, Caine was considered slow. He was behind in reading; they were actually going to hold him back. After this, he's considered gifted.... His grades have improved, he's stopped stuttering and become a public speaker.
"Every child is gifted and we're missing it."
As Mullick and the audience members heaped praise on him, Caine sat humbly in his black pants and silver tie and suppressed a smile the way kids sometimes do when they know grownups are talking about them. Ken Lund, the executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, sat in a chair next to him. Near the end of the presentation, Lund asked Caine about his now-famous blue "Caine's Arcade Staff" shirt, which Caine was wearing when Mullick first met him.
"Do you have more than one staff shirt now?" Lund asked.
"Yeah, I have a couple of staff shirts," Caine said. "Five or six."
"We've actually made a shirt that says 'Boss' for Caine," Mullick said. "And then people have bought 'Caine's Arcade Staff' shirts from all around the world. His staff has scaled."
"Do you have any employees?" Lund asked. (After the film went viral, Mullick said hundreds of people from all over the world would show up on the weekends to play in Caine's Arcade.) "That's a lot of people to handle."
"Volunteers," Caine answered.
"Volunteers?" Lund said. "That's good business."
The audience laughed.
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