This year, CED’s virtual Venture Connect is back and better than ever. More than 125 founders in the Southeast will be sharing their stories at the networking conference on March 23-25 (next Tuesday through Thursday).
CED was one of the first large event organizers in the area to turn their conference virtual in the midst of the pandemic last year. CED Interim CEO Kelly Rowell said that given the short time to adapt—the event was scheduled for March 17-19, just a week or so after the world basically turned upside-down—they didn’t have the benefit of learning from others on how to successfully host a virtual event.
After taking notes from a full year of a largely virtual world, it’s a whole new ball game with new sets of expectations, causing a redesign of Venture Connect.
Rowell said Venture Connect’s format is leveraging successful founders in the area to provide experiences that can inform new solutions for the next generation of entrepreneurs.
A key difference between last year’s format and this year’s is that Venture Connect will not broadcast five-minute pitches over the period of three days. Instead, only a few will be broadcast, while all of the pitches recorded will be housed on the individual company’s pages.
Rowell said the powerhouse of panelists is unmatched anywhere in the community. She hopes this will create a lot of energy for the entrepreneurship ecosystem.
“The more that we can get together and celebrate innovation and empower entrepreneurs to build the best companies they can build,” Rowell said, “we’re all winning, and our region is winning.”
The keynote discussion includes prominent Bay Area investor (and Duke grad) Jeff Ubben, former Fortune magazine journalist Polina Marinova and former Medtronic CEO Bill Hawkins.
As the global movement around diversity and inclusion continues, CED has decided to remove the fee for companies to participate, intentionally hoping to bring in a more diverse group of companies regardless of where they are in their startup journeys.
Rowell said CED has been laser-focused on how the Triangle’s entrepreneurship ecosystem has evolved over 40 years and the value that CED can continue to provide.
“That has looked different for every decade,” Rowell said. “With that also has been a fresh and unique perspective on what value this event delivers and what we want it to deliver in the future. And so for us, really, we want to continue that momentum, gathering people in celebration of innovation in our region.”
This year, founders are also given the opportunity to record themselves describing a pivotal moment in their business and why it was important.
“The importance and intentionality around doing that is because we want the audience to learn more about the founders as people and how they think, because that directly affects their effectiveness in building their company,” Rowell said. “It’s a way of humanizing the people behind the business, not just the product/service/therapy/solution itself.”
As CED looks ahead to future Venture Connects, it’s clear that planning conferences may be a forever-changed art since the start of Covid-19.
“I am hesitant to say that we will ever go back into full-swing, on-site conferences,” Rowell said, adding that she thinks there will now be a hybrid model offering the audience the decision to participate in person or online.
“Building the conference experience is going to be much more complex than it was when you were just building a single plan of execution for an on-site event,” Rowell said.