MinneAnalytics, July 15, 2019
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 is are informal networks comprised of peers that support learning and entrepreneurship.
One prominent example of such an informal network is MinnAnalytics, a Minnesota based not-for -profit focused on Analytics conferences and smaller events. Founded by several midlevel corporate executives, MinneAnalytics puts on 4 to 6 major conferences a year, and many smaller events (directly or in partnership with other community orgs). Examples of the larger conferences, which routinely draw over 1000 attendants, are:
• Halicon - Healthcare Data Science & Emerging Tech Conference, focused on a particular strength of the Minnesota economy, Healthcare.
• FarCon - Financial, Retail and Marketing Analytics Conference, focused on three of the major industry verticals and how analytics is being leveraged.
• DataTech – Focused across industries on AI, Machine Learning, Deep Learning, NLP, Robotic Process Automation and other advanced Analytic disciplines
• SportCon - Explored the many ways in which data-driven decision making 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 MinneaAnalytics 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 recently (Winona in prev 6 years) at Mankato State University, which has recently begun a Masters of Analytics Program. (St. Cloud, Metro State, Hamline, & St Thomas have also started MS programs)
As in many states, much of Minnesota’s academic resources is clustered in a single huge campus, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. But as blue chip a University as it is, it still serves any state to have additional quality graduate programs. The Mankato State program, now in its second year, will be moving to a Twin Cities location next year to better service the numerous corporate professionals in Minneapolis and St Paul who wish to develop expertise in corporate Analytics and Data.
I asked Dan Atkins, a local Analytics executive who founded and runs MinneAnalytics, what the future has in store for the organization. His perspective pointed towards the power of physical community even in this virtual age: “We'll continue to evolve organically they way we always have while always being three things: Accessible, Authentic, and Engaging. [An upcoming conference] FASTCon (Food, Ag, Sustainability, & Tech Conference) reflects this organic growth that reflects the community…We will continue to export our culture of community in seeding communities in other markets…We could be a destination conference and upsize our Data Tech conference, but that doesn't build local community. So we have chosen to continue build our local community and rather than bring other people here for an conference we will bring conferences, and more importantly, community, to people in other markets.”