Behind the Scenes at the Winter Innovation Summit

  Kaitie Jowers (left), Jeremy Keele (center) and Kimberly Venable (right).

  Kaitie Jowers (left), Jeremy Keele (center) and Kimberly Venable (right).

The Winter Innovation Summit is the convening that busts the conventional conference mold and brings together leaders in government, non-profits, social enterprises, venture capital, private foundations, family offices, data and evaluation experts, philanthropists, and the private markets to discuss innovation and impact for social good (and did we mention skiing?). With over 700 people in attendance this past January, the third iteration of the Summit has set high expectations for the upcoming 2018 Summit. As the project managers for the 2017 and 2018 Winter Innovation Summits, we thought we’d give you a behind-the-scenes look at how it all comes together.

Kimberly Venable: Months before guests receive the save-the-date for the Winter Innovation Summit, Kaitie Jowers and I sit down with Sorenson Impact’s President & CEO, Jeremy Keele, to hear his vision. We whiteboard and appraise ideas and gather input from our thought-provoking colleagues and partners. Before too long, we have more ideas than time allows, and we iterate programming until a full picture emerges, doing our best to include each contributor. Kaitie and I meet regularly with our partners at the Sundance Film Institute and view trailers of the films to be shown at the event, and then we narrow down the selections best suited for our audience. By January, everything falls into place, and we are ready to welcome guests to Salt Lake City.

Kaitie Jowers: As you can imagine, we pull a lot of late nights and early mornings in the weeks leading up to the Summit. Before working on the Summit, I had no idea what an undertaking it would be to pull together such a large conference! We had over 100 speakers at the 2017 Summit, so coordinating schedules, travel, and speaking topics was quite an endeavor. But as trite as it may sound, it was really exciting to see it all come together.

Kimberly: We were thrilled to see the keynote speakers, panelists, and attendees fill our venues, embrace one another, and excitedly discuss personal and professional matters. Jim Sorenson opened the 2017 Summit and we had two days of incredible, stimulating content. Throughout the event, we worked hard to capture a lot of the content so that we could make it available to a broader audience. One of my favorite sessions was the last session of the Summit, when Jackie VanderBrug, Jacki Zehner, and Robyn Scott took the main stage to discuss impact investing through a gender lens.

Kaitie: I also loved all the panels, and I especially appreciated being able to interact with speakers from across the country and globe. What strikes me about the Summit is that the attendees and speakers alike are there to learn from one another, share ideas, and make real progress on key issues. But my other favorite part of the conference is the “extracurricular” activities. We have a great partnership with the Sundance Institute and got to take in some incredibly powerful documentaries.

Kimberly: No one ends their cross-industry event quite like Sorenson Impact. Before our guests make their way home, we bus everyone up to ski the greatest snow on earth. Salt Lake City is within a short distance of 10 ski mountains, and we treat everyone to a day on the slopes. Guests take turns networking on the chair lifts and enjoy the soft powder ride back to a group lunch at one of the mountains lodges. Guests informally sit together to compliment or critique each other’s ski runs, exchange business cards, and wrap up conversations from the week.

Kaitie and I take a few days to recuperate from the excitement of the conference, but before too long, we are back at it for the following year. I can tell you already—the 2018 Winter Innovation Summit is going to be bigger and better than ever. You won’t want to miss it! But don’t take it from us, take it from a few of last year’s participants:

“The Summit was incredible—better every year (even when that doesn’t seem possible!)  I love that you keep expanding the network of people who attend and keep the content relevant and fresh.”

“As you know, I attend more conferences than I would like to admit. And it is my genuine pleasure to tell you that, in my experience, the Winter Innovation Summit is in a class by itself. Professional. Thoughtful. Interesting. Challenging. Just fantastic, on every level. In particular, it was great to hear the speakers from government. I've long been skeptical (if not outright dismissive) of government, so it was super to hear from elected and appointed officials focused on making government work better. Heck, I am tempted to submit my resume to the guy who runs DC water!”

“I just wanted to thank you, as you folks put on a wonderful conference. It was great fun, and I really found it incredibly informative, both within the sessions and in chatting with the other guests.”

“The WIS was a real inspiration and wellspring of insight and information. I was so glad to be included.”

“As always it was a highly worthwhile event—with great content and great networking and business development opportunities”

“Before one more day passes, I want to offer my most heartfelt congratulations for executing such a remarkable event, and my thanks for including me.”

“From a purely personal perspective, I'd say that this was the most welcoming, high-class event I've ever attended. From Jeremy's first invitation email to my hotel check out, my experience was... perfect. Full stop.”

“I write to thank you for hosting such a successful summit last week and for inviting me to be part of it. As I imagine you do, I go to many convenings and yours was significantly more interesting and more serious than most. I’m honoured to have been part of it.”

For more information on the 2018 Winter Innovation Summit click here. We hope to see you in January!

Lisa Cox