EntreFEST – it will be out of this world

For New Bohemia Innovation Collaborative (NewBoCo) Chief Operating Officer Jill Wilkins, the “magic” of EntreFEST is its wide variety of attendees and the connections they make.

Sure, the event, which returns to Cedar Rapids and computer screens near you this week, is for entrepreneurs. It’s right there in the name, and the event will be replete with young people wanting to join accelerators, those with big ideas trying to figure out where to start and more established businesspeople looking to scale up.

“But then also, we have a lot of intrapreneurs – those that are working within a more traditional business setting, that are looking to just take some of those principles that entrepreneurs use to maybe think a little differently, a little quicker,” said Ms. Wilkins, adding the two-day event kicking off June 10 is for anyone interested in “moving the needle forward within their business or within their department.

“It really provides a unique opportunity to bring groups together that can actually learn together – and who knows, maybe work together. We’ve had some really cool stories in the past where one of our intrapreneurs from a larger business has run into an entrepreneur and find they are great fit to work together. And a business partnership is made.”

This year’s event, featuring a lineup of about 80 speakers and panelists, will have a hybrid format. That means events will be held live and streamed virtually, allowing attendees to choose the experience that works best for them. The hybrid model was selected before a majority of Iowans had been vaccinated and follows last year’s successful virtual-only event held at the height of the pandemic.

Typically, the annual EntreFEST event draws about 500 people, Ms. Wilkins said. Last year’s hastily assembled virtual event, which had to be reorganized in mere weeks following the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, still managed 300 attendees.

This year will offer the best of both worlds. In-person capacity has been limited to just over 200 people to allow for ample distancing “but still offer that in-person experience for still a nice amount of people.” Virtual tickets are available for as many people as are interested in participating, though remain uneasy about crowds or have scheduling issues.

“Ultimately what that means is we are working very hard to make sure that the content is accessible to any attendee,” Ms. Wilkins said. “Unless it is [something] very specific … like a networking event or maybe a workshop setting, all of our sessions will be available to all attendees, whether the speaker is a virtual speaker or an in-person speaker.”

No matter how they attend the two-day conference, organizers say they can look forward to the collaborative spirit of making things happen and outside-the-box thinking EntreFEST is known for.

Presented by the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and produced by NewBoCo, this year’s keynote speaker lineup includes the CBJ’s own Sarika Bhakta and Anthony Arrington, hosts of podcast Diversity Straight Up, who will dig into the topics of equity, diversity, inclusion and engagement through authentic and challenging conversations with EntreFEST speakers, and Cedar Rapids-area serial entrepreneur and podcast host Steve Shriver.

Also in keynote roles are Marcus Bullock, CEO and founder of Washington, D.C.-based Flikshop, discussing his journey from prison to entrepreneurship, and artist, storyteller and strategist Taryn Southern, who will talk about her work at the intersection of emerging technology and human potential.

“Marcus Bullock and Taryn Southern are two just really cool individuals who have some interesting stories and unique journeys, whether that be in entrepreneurship or innovation, so we’re so excited to have them coming to Cedar Rapids,” Ms. Wilkins said. “And to have Steve Shriver, and to partner with CBJ on the Diversity Straight Up podcast — that was really a really important piece of EntreFEST last year and great vehicle for us to have a conversation … within entrepreneurship and business.”

Ms. Wilkins said she was similarly enthused to welcome about 25 virtual speakers and panelists.

“One thing that we really talk to all of our speakers about is actually having some tangible takeaways, that someone sitting in the room could say, ‘Man, that’s something that I could go back and try and try to implement,’” she said. “We love to have inspirational stories. The journeys that people have … building a business or working within a specific field, are incredibly valuable to be able hear … how something may be similar or different from your experience means a lot.”