Last Friday, I had the pleasure of attending the Highlight Midwest (hashtag: #hmdm) event in Des Moines. Highlight Midwest is a regional event that started last year in Kansas City, with the idea of "highlighting" the good entrepreneurial stories from across the Midwest - specifically from the Des Moines, Kansas City and Omaha. Logic would indicate that next year's event will be in Omaha but organizer's have been strangely avoiding stating that as fact.
The majority of the conference featured small businesses owners and entrepreneurs presenting to their peers in hopes of both getting the word out and hopefully spurring collaboration in the future.
I had the chance to sit in Ben Milne's presentation on Dwolla, his new money transfer company in Des Moines that I've been keeping an eye on, as well as one about RockDex, a company spread between Kansas City and Omaha, that tracks information on music play and interest in new media.
I also threw my 2 cents in as my friends Dusty Davidson and Jeff Slobotski, the founders of Silicon Prairie News, talked about the future role of their great service (that I'm proud to be a part of) in raising the tide for innovators in our little region of the country.
By far, my favorite part of the day (in addition to the comped bar by Ames' own Olde Main Brewing Company that opened at noon!) was the keynote speakers. There were three keynotes, one each from the noted cities: Simon Kuo from LightThread in Kansas City, Mike Draper(1) from SMASH in Des Moines and Joe Olsen(2) from PhenomBlue in Omaha. Each is an innovator on an (inter)national scale and the Midwest is better for having them.
It's unfortunate that they were scheduled for 4:30-6:00 PM on a Friday afternoon because a lot of the out-of-state folks had already taken off. However, for those of us that stuck around, we were treated to great presentations. They were inspiring, identifiable and each had a challenge for the future. I had the chance to grab a little video from each and I'll have it up on SPN soon.
Danny Schrieber, the man behind the content at SPN, did a fun video project that day where he grabbed attendees and asked them to: introduce themselves, tell us their "Highlight of the Midwest" and who they met at the conference that they'd like to have lunch with. He cut them together and here's the result.
(1)Mike graciously did an interview with me for SPN - check it out here (2)Joe's a great guy who helped me network in Omaha when it looked like Hope was bound for Creighton rather than Drake.