What factors matter in building a regional technology economy? Two main factors are a critical mass of related businesses and world-class research universities. But just as important are informal networks composed of peers that support learning and entrepreneurship.

One prominent example of such an informal network is MinneAnalytics, a Minnesota-based nonprofit focused on analytics conferences and smaller events. Founded by several midlevel corporate executives, MinneAnalytics puts on four to six major conferences a year, and many smaller events (directly or in partnership with other community organizations). 

Examples of the larger conferences, routinely drawing over 1,000 attendants, are:

• Halicon (Healthcare Data Science & Emerging Tech Conference), focused on a particular strength of the Minnesota economy: health care.

• FarCon (Financial, Retail and Marketing Analytics Conference), focused on three of the major industry verticals and how analytics is being leveraged.

• Data Tech, focused across industries on artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, neuro-linguistic programming, robotic process automation and other advanced analytic disciplines.

• SportCon, which explores the many ways in which data-driven decisionmaking is playing a major role in sports.

Several attributes make MinneAnalytics unusual — it is free to all attendants (costs are covered by corporate sponsors) and the speakers are national in caliber. Attending an event feels more like going to a conference in Orlando or Las Vegas than a local get-together. (Full disclosure: I have spoken several times at MinneAnalytics events and played an informal role in planning others.)

The caliber of MinneAnalytics events are such that the organization is expanding its conferences nationally, initially in Boston.

Another recent example of MinneAnalytics’ influence was its sponsorship of a student analytics coding competition at Minnesota State University, Mankato, now in its second year offering a master’s of analytics program.

As in many states, many of Minnesota’s academic resources are clustered in a single huge campus, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. But it still serves any state to have additional quality graduate programs. The MSU program, now in its second year, will be moving to a Twin Cities location next year to better serve the numerous corporate professionals in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Dan Atkins, a local analytics executive who founded and runs MinneAnalytics, nods to the power of physical community, even in this virtual age, as key to his organization’s future.

“We’ll continue to evolve organically the way we always have while always being three things: accessible, authentic and engaging,” he said. He points to an upcoming conference, FASTCon (Food, Ag, Sustainability & Supply Chain in Tech Conference) as an example of the organic growth that reflects the Twin Cities.

“We [also] will continue to export our culture of community in seeding communities in other markets,” Atkins said. “We could be a destination conference and upsize our DataTech conference, but that doesn’t build local community. So we have chosen to continue to build our local community and rather than bring other people here for a conference, we will bring conferences, and more importantly, community, to people in other markets.”

 

Isaac Cheifetz is an executive recruiter and strategic résumé consultant based in the Twin Cities. His website is www.catalytic1.com.