SpeakersIntroducing our conference speakers!
Speakers for 2020
Check back often as we role out new speakers for 2020!
Founder of Sittercity.com, Opera Singer, TV Produce and Startup Investor
Genevieve Thiers is an disruptor, entrepreneur, speaker and investor that lives in the Chicago area. Her first company, Sittercity.com, is America’s first company to take caregiving services online. Sittercity.com now has millions of users and new locations in the UK and Canada.
Genevieve was recognized by President Bush at the White House as the Small Business Administration Young Entrepreneur Champion of the Year for 2006, and her companies have won over 18 major awards, including the CEC Momentum Award, the WBDC Rising Start Award, a CNN Young Heroes feature, the UPS Out of the Box Award, the INC 500 list, and more. Genevieve has been featured thousands of times in the press for her work, by the TODAY show, Ellen, the View, MSNBC, the CBS Early Show, CNN, Live & Style, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Redbook, Parents, Parenting, Marie Clare, TIME, Better Homes and Gardens, Working Mother and more.
She has lectured or spoken at the TED Global, Cusp, Amex, Groupon, Enova, Inland, the CEO Conference, the Heartland Conference, Microsoft, Harvard business school, Kellogg, Columbia, Babson, Boston College, U Chicago and for hundreds of other entrepreneurial groups around the country. She is the author of the book Love at First Sit, and frequently writes for various tech publications in the Chicago area.
Co-Founder of Eat Fit Go, Serial Entrepreneur & Wellness Expert
Erik iwas a pitcher for the Huskers baseball team and after he graduated in 2009, he pursed a career as a fitness professional. Eric moved up the ladder quickly and became the youngest manager of the largest Lifetime Fitness gym in the country in Chicago. Erik left there to co-found Eat Fit Go, a healthy prepared food concept.
After a wild ride in with a fast growing company, Erik sold his share in the company and returned to his roots in the wellness industry as a fitness professional with a team of trainers who work for him. As a trainer and a speaker, Erik is passionate about wellness and entrepreneurship and has a highly relateable and inspirational message for young entrepreneurs.
Founder of Headbands of Hope, Author, Speaker
Jessica Ekstrom founded Headbands of Hope when she was a senior in college in 2012. She created the company to bring joy back to kids who have lost their hair and help fund childhood cancer research. Her first brush with success was selling all of her toys on eBay when she was twelve. Since then, Jess and her company have been featured on Today and Good Morning America and in Seventeen, Vanity Fair, Forbes, and People. More importantly, they have donated hundreds of thousands of headbands reaching every children’s hospital in the United States and in fifteen countries.
Jess is also a professional speaker and founder of Mic Drop Workshop, an online course with the mission of empowering more women to share their message as a speaker. Jess and her husband, Jake, travel around the country in their Airstream with their dog, Ollie.
In her new book, Chasing the Bright Side, Jess shares that “… we are born with something more important than skills. We’re born with optimism—the initial seed for success. Optimism fuels the belief that you can be the one to create the good the world needs. But you’ve got to hone it. And practice it. And determine to live from it.”
Founder and CEO of Brainz Power / Keynote Speaker
Andrew founded Brainz Power in 2015 when he witnessed firsthand the prescribed focus medication epidemic on all US college campuses as a freshman at USC. There were no natural alternatives, so he set out to create one.
Before graduating in 2018, Andrew had already landed features in Forbes, Business Insider and named on of the to 20 entrepreneurs in their 20’s for the impact that Brainz Power has had on the college market.
Founder and Executive Director of A Place at the Table
At 23 years old and fresh off a degree in International Relations and Italian from N.C. State, Maggie had planned to move to Italy. While volunteering and working at local nonprofits she realized that .“Raleigh was a happening place to be… for people with money. It felt divided, and I knew that food was our tool to fix it.” Based on her experiences, Kane founded A Place at the Table, Raleigh’s first pay-what-you-can café.
Maggie Kane is the Founder and Executive Director of A Place at the Table, the first pay-what-you-can cafe in downtown Raleigh. She graduated from North Carolina State University in 2013 and began working for a nonprofit with people experiencing homelessness. By befriending many people living on the margins, she knew something needed to be done. Maggie has a heart to serve, a desire to always be inclusive, and a passion for loving people. Through her work with people on the streets, she realized the power of community, the importance of dignity, and the beauty in bringing people together over incredible food. February 2015, A Place at the Table was birthed and Maggie never looked back, opening in January of 2018 serving thousands of people in Raleigh with a dignified, healthy, and affordable meal. However, more importantly, a meal that feeds more than just the stomach– it feeds your hearts, souls, and minds. Outside of the cafe, you will catch her running marathons and eating peanut butter! But…you will mainly find her at the cafe right now loving on people all day.
Speakers for 2019
VP of Marketing for Coors Light, Quiznos and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
Gerry O’Brion is a marketing keynote speaker and author who translates big brand strategies into knowledge that any business can use to win in the marketplace. Gerry’s presentations drive growth with companies of all sizes from small businesses to billion dollar brands. Gerry built his career growing big brands and distills that experience into creating strategies and real ideas that are actionable immediately.
After earning his MBA at the University of Michigan, he worked with Procter & Gamble on brands such as Crisco, Tide, Mr. Clean, and Spic & Span. Next, at Coors Brewing Company he managed Coors Light, a $2 billion business. He was then VP of Marketing for the $1.5 billion Quiznos restaurant chain. Gerry was most recently VP of Marketing for Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, a $1 billon brand.
Gerry works to first understand your unique goals and challenges, and then to deliver a presentation that delivers maximum impact for every dollar you invest.
Co-Founder and Visionary of The Social Lights
Emily Pritchard is Co-Founder and Visionary of The Social Lights, a social business consultancy located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She’s an innovator with a passion for people, and she always finds a way to make an impact. With the big picture in mind, Emily keeps a pulse on what’s new in the industry and never fails to find creative ways to get the job done.
A graduate of the University of St. Thomas, Emily holds degrees in Business Communication, Entrepreneurship, and Family Business. In 2018, she was named a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Heartland Program.
Emily is dedicated to sharing her time and expertise with others. As a mentor for Techstars, a global seed accelerator, and the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas, she remains actively involved in the startup community.
Outside of work, she enjoys running, yoga, cooking, and travel. Emily is on a mission to explore (and surf) all seven continents and has four under her belt already: North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
Co-Founder, Monday Motorbikes
I have over a decade in consumer and B2B sales in multiple industries. My experience managing sales teams, creating efficient sales methodologies and implementing business development strategies has allowed me to grow strong relationships across the globe.
Throughout my career I have worked in the automotive industry as well as the legal & travel technology industries leading and developing team members throughout the country.
As the Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer at Monday Motorbikes, I am driven by personal passion, an excitement to solve difficult problems associated complex hardware and teach/learn from those around me. I strive to enhance my current leadership capabilities, expand our group of intelligent & driven team members as well as grow our internationally recognized brand.
Mary Clare Sweet
Founder of Lotus House of Yoga
I intend to raise the vibration of the world with joy, peace, and love.My yoga journey began with my mom in the heartland and has grown from a tiny seed into the family that is Lotus House. 5 Lotus House locations, 95 employees, and over 10,000 active students create an incredibly strong group of people ready to live their truth.
We extend our Lotus House culture into a travel company, music festival, wellness coaching, and a globally renown training school. Teaching yoga is my passion and loving people is my purpose. In every class you will experience a transformation that changes your life on and off the mat. I am motivated by the resilience of the human spirit and the grace of mother nature. We are connected by universal consciousness and the capacity to follow our dreams.
CEO & Co-Founder of SoapBox Soaps
David Simnick is the CEO and co-founder of SoapBox Soaps, an all-natural personal-care company that donates a bar of soap or a month’s supply of clean water to those in need around the world for every item sold. SoapBox’s mission is to empower consumers to make a change through everyday, quality purchases, and in just its first five years alone, SoapBox has sold almost $5 million worth of products.
He had the idea for Soapbox when he was working as a subcontractor for the United States Agency for International Development and then began making soap on the side.
Soapbox had their first big break selling with WholeFoods, and currently sells their personal care products in major retailers across the US (Walgreens, Target, Rite Aid, Meyer, Kroger, and Walmart to name a few). They have been featured on the Today Show, MSNBC, Entrepreneur magazine, and Forbes.
Founder of Half United
An internship with TOMS Shoes. A bag of discarded bullet casings. A $200 startup investment. A vision for helping children in need. The HALF UNITED story could begin at any number of starting points. But ask brother-sister founders—Christian and Carmin Black—where it really starts, and it always goes back to their parents and an upbringing that nurtured a passion for people, design, charity, and entrepreneurship.
With a mother who owned restaurants and designed merchandising concepts for major fashion brands and a father who ministered in churches around the globe, the seemingly opposite worlds of fashion and philanthropy converged in their home, serving as a constant inspiration to the siblings. So in Wilmington, NC, in 2009, when Carmin left a promising job in journalism and Christian wrapped up high school, they began working together to create a brand that combined these two loves. Fashion and Giving—two halves that united can make a difference. The vision of HALF UNITED was born.
Founder of ParadigmID.com
Award-winning executive design consultant (ux/cx & product/brand strategy, venture design & corporate innovation) whose work has brought success and scale to both the earliest ventures and largest of enterprises. Offering innovative and strategic product design solutions, his design direction & strategy is trusted by entrepreneurs, startups of all stages, and corporate brands alike: Neurun, Malkuta, Loop, Hyperion, Faith-in-Humanity, SAS, Bosch, Coca-Cola, LG, IBM, Lowe’s, Deutsche Bank, Eastman Chemical, and DARPA, to name a few.
Recognized for over 28 industry awards and honors ranging from Baylor New Venture, Product Innovation Lab, Poole Innovation Expo, and Andrews Accelerator, to the IDSA Merit Award, BCorp Champion, Betabox/TI, Verizon Innovation, Think & Do, and many more. His breadth of work has also been published in Data Viz Conference 2017, The Catalyst, 3D Print, 3Ders, DesignLife Magazine, Exit Event, Triangle Discovery Forum, among others.
Haley Hoffman Smith
Keynote Speaker & Author
Haley Hoffman Smith is a keynote speaker and the author of Her Big Idea, a book on ideation and women’s empowerment which debuted as a Top 3 Bestseller. She has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, and the Washington Examiner. A recent Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brown University, she wrote her honors thesis on how women develop their sense of self agency in entrepreneurship and venture capital. She is the founder of the Her Big Idea Fund in partnership with Brown’s
Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, which awards grants to women who apply with BIG ideas.
At Brown, she was the President of Women’s Entrepreneurship and started the first-ever women’s entrepreneurship incubator. She is the Director of Community for Next Gen Summit, an entrepreneurship community of 3,000+ members, and sincerely enjoys consulting with other entrepreneurs. She is a contributor for Thrive Global and Entrepreneur.
Haley speaks on topics such as women’s empowerment, innovation, and personal branding regularly across companies and college campuses – most recently, at Microsoft, Harvard, SoGal Ventures, Columbia, and Yale.
Founder of RetailAware, Blabfeed, and many others
As a serial entrepreneur, startup technologist, and marketing executive, Keith has been part of customer management teams for global Fortune 500 companies Abercrombie & Fitch, DirecTV, and led technology marketing initiatives with clients such as Target, SAC Federal Credit Union and others worldwide.
While still an undergrad at UNO, Keith won the Maverick Business Plan contest and raised six-figures in funding to start blabfeed, an award-winning digital signage integrator that handles hardware, software, design, installation and support of digital menu boards, way finding displays, and kiosks for a diverse portfolio of clients.
After a successful exit, Keith is now launching RetailAware, a technology firm that optimizes merchandising by leveraging real time in-store data to drive retail sales. Keith holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing, Management, Entrepreneurship & Innovation from the University of Nebraska Omaha.
Conference Emcee, Award Winning Real Estate Agent, Investor, Speaker, & CEO
Casanova Brooks is an award-winning real estate agent, investor, speaker and relationship builder. After achieving high-level success in the real estate industry as well as various marketing and sales roles, Casanova has figured out the steps to truly build meaningful relationships and make his dreams become a reality.
Nurturing the ideology – It Starts With Your Mindset – Casanova Brooks held up strong when he hit rock bottom. He learned it the tough way in his early days when he was diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer at the age of 15. Years later, he faced another devastating turning point in his life. Within a one week span, Casanova lost his mom, his home, and his job. Without nothing left but love and support from his wife and family, Casanova vowed to pick himself up and started internally focusing on a growth mindset. He went all in, with his back against the wall he kept fighting, and when his hard work finally was met with a great opportunity, the tables were turned. Not only clearing 6 figures as a real estate agent in his first year, on his first real estate investment endeavor, he has continued to build a successful portfolio.
Speakers for 2018
Jeff Hoffman is a successful entrepreneur, proven CEO, worldwide motivational speaker, published author, Hollywood film producer, and a producer of a Grammy winning jazz album. In his career, he has been the founder of multiple startups, he has been the CEO of both public and private companies, and he has served as a senior executive in many capacities. Jeff has been part of a number of well-known companies, including Priceline.com. uBid.com, CTI, ColorJar, and more.
Today Jeff serves on the boards of companies in the US, Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia. He supports entrepreneurs and small businesses on a worldwide basis, serving on the boards of The Unreasonable Group, the global board of directors of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (supporting entrepreneurship in over 170 countries), the US State Department’s GIST program (Global Innovation through Science and Technology, working in 49 emerging nations), the APEC Startup Initiative (the Asia Pacific Economic Council’s 21-member nation association), and many others. He supports the White House, the State Department, the United Nations, and similar organizations internationally on economic growth initiatives and entrepreneurship programs.
Serial Entrepreneur, Co-Founder / Chief Inventor of THINX
Miki Agrawal (www.mikiagrawal.com) is a serial social entrepreneur. She was the recipient of The Tribeca Film Festival’s “Disruptive Innovation Award”, she was named “2017 Young Global Leader by World Economic Forum”, “Social Entrepreneur of the Year” by the World Technology Summit, she was one of INC Magazine’s “Most Impressive Women Entrepreneurs of 2016”, Forbes’ “Top 20 Millennials on a Mission”, and made the cover of Entrepreneur Magazine in 2016.
She is the founder of the acclaimed farm-to-table, alternative pizza concept called WILD (www.eatdrinkwild.com) with 3 locations in New York City, one in Guatemala and more on the way.
She co-founded THINX (www.shethinx.com), a high-tech, period-proof underwear brand and led the company as CEO to Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2017, helping tens of millions of women period better. She also co-founded Icon, a high-tech pee-proof underwear brand that helps women manage light bladder leakage.
She most recently founded TUSHY (www.hellotushy.com), a company that is revolutionizing the American toilet category with a modern, affordable, designer bidet attachment that both upgrades human health & hygiene as well as the environment from wasteful toilet paper consumption. She and her team are also helping fight the global sanitation crisis by bringing clean latrines to underserved communities in India through their partnership with Samagra.
Harper Collins published her first book entitled “DO COOL SH*T” on entrepreneurship and lifestyle design and Hay House is publishing her second book “Disrupt-Her” coming out in the fall of 2018.
Miki is an identical twin, half-Japanese, half-Indian French Canadian, former professional soccer player, graduate of Cornell University and proud new mama of Hiro Happy.
Founder of ShankMinds Breakthrough
Peter is the founder of ShankMinds: Breakthrough, an online community of business professionals from around the world who come together to give and get advice, increase their business, and improve their lives.
Additionally, Peter is also the founder and CEO of The Geek Factory, Inc., a boutique Social Media, Marketing and PR Strategy firm located in New York City, with clients worldwide. His blog, which he launched in 1995 at https://www.shankman.com, both comments on and generates news and conversation.
Peter’s Customer Service and Social Media clients have included American Express, Sprint, SAP, The US Department of Defense, Royal Bank of Canada, Snapple Beverage Group, Saudi Aramco, Foley Hoag LLP, NASA, Haworth, Sheraton, Walt Disney World, Abercrombie and Kent, The Ad Council, Discovery Networks, New Frontier Media, Napster, Juno, Dream Catcher Destinations Club, Harrah’s Hotels, and many, many others.
Co-founder of and Chief Marketing Office of Flywheel
Rick Knudtson is a designer, self-taught digital marketer and serial entrepreneur. He is currently co-founder and CMO at Flywheel in Omaha. Over the last five years, Rick has helped Flywheel grow into an international brand with a team of 100+ Flywheelers, thousands of customers across the globe and multiple award-winning products.
Rick has a passion for sales and marketing strategy, simple business models and building highly functioning teams. As an entrepreneur, he has a long list of not-so-successful projects. Each experience has shaped his perspective on what it takes to build high-growth, world-class organizations.
Outside of Flywheel, Rick writes about sales and marketing strategy on his blog More Up, Less Right, spends time with his family and continues to explore new things in his hometown Omaha.
Co-Founder and CEO of Marijuana Business Daily
Cassandra heads up the cannabis industry’s leading daily news website, Marijuana Business Daily and its family of content resources for the B2B cannabis marketplace, including two national conferences.
A former VP at Citi, Cassandra considers herself a fugitive from Corporate America. She and co-founder, Anne Holland, saw a nascent industry that lacked reliable, unbiased news coverage, was underserved with regard to opportunities for professionals to forge connections between the professionals building an industry, and needed a repository for industry-wide business data.
Cassandra earned her MBA from the University of Texas, McCombs School of Business.
Their trade show, The Marijuana Business Conference & Expo (MJBizCon) was named the fastest growing trade show in the U.S. by Trade Show Executive Magazine in 2015. In 2016, both the Spring and the Fall Marijuana Business Conference & Expo received high placements in the The Fastest 50 as well. [The 2017 MjBizCon is hoping to achieve top rankings again as they move to a bigger space in the Las Vegas convention center.]
Author & Copywriter
“Dana Derricks (A.K.A. “The Copywriting Professor”) is a brilliant marketer and one of the highest-paid copywriters on the planet. A major portion of his success is credited to implementing the “Dream 100 Strategy” to find partners, negotiate deals, and dramatically grow his business.
Having authored four books by the age of 26, one being the “Dream 100 Book), he’s ready to share some of his best-kept secrets with you…including how he created a deep sense of fulfillment in his work, because EVERY person that he worked with is someone that he deeply respects, and inspires him to serve his audience and create change in their lives.
Founded Fabulous Coach Lines
Ray Land is a memorable personality with tales of terror, ambition, and optimism through it all. The hardest worker you’ll meet- who’s never held an actual job… Entrepreneur is a new word for it but, Ray Land’s been doing his thing since he could walk & talk- starting with the roadside watermelon stand at 7 years old. To date Ray has founded more than ten businesses, recipient of the INC 30 under 30, Business 25 under 25, featured in the Wall Street Journal, FOX Business and has been invited to the White House three times.
A constant learner who doesn’t test well… Ray is a CEO, pilot, captain, motorcoach operator as well as wanderlust traveler and friend to everyone he meets. Ray’s attempts with a multitude of businesses frequently turn out a flop while some take off like rockets. Ray shares his story of a human on a mission to live life to the maximum with all the frustrations included. As a new friend with Ray, explore a world of new ideas, travel, motorcoaches, watermelons, vessels, manufacturing, software engineering, contracting, sales, leadership & inspiration!
Ray Land is based in Los Angeles, California with headquarters in Branford, Florida. At 30 years old, Ray’s early start as a business owner gives him the unique perspective on life, it’s meaning and the driving forces of human perseverance, creativity & leadership.
Always aspiring, Ray Land’s endeavor to impact your life in a positive way will be clear, and to the betterment of humanity by sharing his most valuable message with you.
As one of today’s ambitious and aspiring entrepreneurs, Kelsey Duffy founded and initially seed-funded Versakini, rolling up her sleeves and wore many hats as she filled the roles of designer, Creative Director, Sales Executive, and CEO!
Kelsey can motivate almost anyone with her personal story of entrepreneurship and how she learned how to turn failure into opportunity. The stories and experiences Kelsey shares has helped mold her into an executive in the fashion world. With little to no experience in manufacturing or design, Kelsey is a prime example that with a dream and a team, anything is truly possible.
Versakini is a rapidly growing startup fashion brand that is shaking up the beachwear category with a fun and dynamic approach, allowing girls to mix and match like never before! Versakini allows girls to interchange and reverse pieces of their collection, to provide a unique fashion freedom. Shark Tank Airing: Beyond The Tank Season 1, Episode 3.
Healthy Hip Hop, (Sharktank contestant with a twist!)
When a potentially life-altering business deal suddenly vanished, Roy Scott didn’t get mad — he got funded. “Disney thought they were going to snuff us out, but all they did was put gasoline on this fire,” said Scott, founder of Kansas City-based H3 Enterprises (Healthy Hip Hop).
Starting his company with a live performance-based business model in summer 2010, Scott — also known as Rappin’ Roy — had a simple goal for Healthy Hip Hop, he said. “Take that same urban hip hop beat, along with the pop culture sound, and marry it with a positive message that focuses on education, health and wellness,” Scott said. It quickly became clear, however, that relying on live shows with his performance partner, magician Reggie Gray, ultimately wouldn’t be sustainable nor would the brand reach its revenue goals, he said. Healthy Hip Hop had to evolve.
“We did a TV pilot for a show called ‘Keep it Moving,’ like a contemporary ‘Sesame Street,’” Scott said. “We had two puppets, Hip and Hop, kind of like Bert and Ernie. We created some curriculum around the music and did some merchandising.” It was a children’s media brand in the making.
“We knew during that process we were going to have to raise more money to really scale our offerings and take the business to the next level,” he said. That quest for capital led Scott and Healthy Hip Hop to a season 7 appearance on “Shark Tank,” successfully pitching a deal to entrepreneur-investor Kevin O’Leary, aka Mr. Wonderful, Scott said. It was going to be a game-changer, he said, with O’Leary committing $500,000 for a 50 percent stake in Healthy Hip Hop’s children’s TV show. “We knew that more importantly than the 50 percent in the kids TV programming, once the ‘Shark Tank’ episode airs, this is going to be our national exposure. It’s going to open lots of doors for us,” Scott said.
Healthy Hip Hop’s segment was filmed in September 2015. “Shark Tank” producers called in March 2016 to tell Scott his episode was amazing, but wouldn’t be airing, he said.
Founder, BCom Solutions, Principal at Change Ventures
Brent Comstock is an entrepreneur, rural economic developer, venture capitalist and keynote speaker. Brent’s passion for rural communities, technology and down-ballot campaigns and causeshave fueled his professional journey. Brent founded BCom Solutions at the age of 12 and the development of the Rural Impact Hub–a place for rural community organizations to partner together and collaborate on ways to support and strengthen rural America. More recently Brent serves as principal of the venture capital fund, Change Ventures, that invests in early stage Baltic-region start-ups.