Mnovation panel 8
Mnovation panel 7

 We have had the honor of hosting an amazing array of innovative thinkers and doers

Mike Alcott, Production Director, Boston Scientific

Mike has 15 years of experience working for Boston Scientific.  He has worked at two different sites in Minnesota during that time (Maple Grove and Arden Hills). He has held positions of increasing responsibility all within Operations as a Supervisor, Manager, and currently as Director. Mike has three wonderful children, has participated in the Tough Mudder challenge seven times, and is the self proclaimed “Culture King” of Arden Hills. Twitter handle: @bostonsci

Dakota Crow, Director of Innovation, Research & Development, Optum

In his first three years at Optum Dakota was a member of the IRD Garage team. In this role, Dakota was responsible for helping create, develop, and lead new innovation concepts within the larger enterprise. Overall he was charged with helping to build, measure, and learn the validity and market opportunity of new businesses and products as quickly and efficiently as possible. While working in the Optum IRD Garage he led multiple innovation projects including the Disability Cost Estimator, Living Large, Garage as a Service, and, an interactive tool for marketing & sales professionals to more effectively map “Big Health” data. Dakota is a serial entrepreneur of ten start-ups and a twenty-year veteran of the sports & wellness industry. Locally he a long-time volunteer of the Smile Network and the co-founder of the Minnovation Collective, a regional meet-up group for Corporate Innovation professionals. Twitter handle: @Optum

Joe Friedrich, Quality Director, Boston Scientific

Joe Friedrich has 15 years of experience working for Boston Scientific (previously Guidant). He has held positions of increasing responsibility across Operations Quality, Post Market Quality, and Supplier Development. He currently serves as Operations Quality Director for Boston Scientific’s Arden Hills Plant. He previously served as Quality Director for the Cameron Health acquisition, creator of the Subcutaneous Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator. Joe is a proud dad to two great kids, a St. Paul Blackhawks Parent Coach, and a Saint Mark’s School Wellness Committee Member. Twitter handle: @bostonsci

Aaron Keller, Founding Partner and Managing Principal, Capsule

Aaron is a founding partner and managing principal of Capsule, where he leads brand development, strategy, research and naming for clients. He has over 20 years of consulting experience in marketing, branding and retail strategy for a range of brands, including Herman Miller, Jack Daniels, Target, SmartWool and 3M. Recently, he co-authored the book The Physics of Brand, which explores the science of branding and design through physics principles. He has spoken on brand, design and entrepreneurship for the University of St. Thomas, University of MN, the American Marketing Association, and more. Aaron has a BA in marketing management from the University of St. Thomas and an MBA from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. Twitter handle: @KellerofCapsule

Esra Kucukciftci, President, Visual VR

Esra is a technologist and entrepreneur who is passionate about creating experiences and solving big problems through the use of VR. Esra’s experience has spanned everything ‘product’- product development, product management, product marketing, and product consulting. Before launching into the world of virtual reality Esra worked for Amazon, Facebook and SAS. Esra is also involved in a social enterprise called helpNow, a new multi-tenant and unified technology platform for connecting humans in need with human services networks, in real time. He other growth venture is Groundsource, an engagement technology platform that helps organizations to become more attentive, accessible, and responsive to their audiences’ needs, voices, and communication preferences. In her ample spare time, Esra also runs Pricing Innovations, a product consultancy specifically focusing on pricing and monetization. @EsraKc

Zach Robins, Attorney, Winthrop & Weinstine

Zach Robins is a securities attorney in the Corporate and Transactions practice group at Winthrop and Weinstine. He counsels clients in the areas of general corporate, M&A, private equity raises and debt financing. Zach co-drafted Minnesota’s intrastate investment crowdfunding law, MNvest, and counsels issuers, portal operators, investors, banks, and service providers on the nuances of state and federal crowdfunding laws, as well as other securities issues. Twitter handle: @zjrobins

Meet Zach here!

Chaz Sandifer and Valerie Turner, Co-Founders, Noir Elite Fitness

Val and Chaz are creating a new kind of fitness sisterhood in the Twin Cities to help close the disproportionate health risks that African-American women face. Almost 80 percent of African-American women in the U.S. are obese or overweight and they have high rates of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Val a certified Zumba instructor and Chaz a figure bodybuilder founded Noir Elite Fitness in April 2017. By combining households and building their shared dream they were able to launch Noir Elite Fitness in April 2017 and believe in working mothers making a difference in their community one rep at a time. More about their work here.

Eric Schneider, Associate Superintendent, Minnetonka Public Schools

For the past seven years, Eric has been overseeing Minnetonka’s high-performing academic program, as well as its nationally-acclaimed, crowd-based innovation program The Big Hunt for Ideas. Previously, Schneider served as principal of Vintage High School in Napa Valley Unified School District, and he was an assistant principal at Washburn High School in Minneapolis. He began his career as a teacher in the Minneapolis Public School District. He currently serves on the EdLeader21 National Advisory Board, he advises Global Silicon Valley and their annual “Innovation in Education” national event. He also leads the Minnesota Community Innovation Partnership, and he serves on the Minnesota Online Learning Advisory Council and the Minnesota ASCD Board of Directors. Schneider was selected by the Midwest Suburban Superintendents Association as its Warren Fellow in 2017 and was presented with the “Innovation for Good” award by Mindjet in 2015. Twitter handle: @tonkaschools

Lisa Steffes, CEO and President,brightpeak financial

As CEO and President of Brightpeak Financial, Lisa Steffes sets the strategy and direction of the company. She has been instrumental in building and leading a culture of innovation, agility and discipline, driving results while creating and scaling the business. Lisa is leading a rising digital financial services company at a time when innovation is detrimental to staying in business, making incremental change to transform and reframe the legacy business of selling financial products face-to-face into a digital business that attracts a younger generation who prefer purchasing these products through apps and on the Internet. Lisa frequently speaks at industry events giving presentations on topic of women in leadership, STEM, finance, digital technology, digital transformation and millennials. Lisa has a Bachelor of Science degree in Management Sciences & Quantitative Methods and Business Management from the University of Saint Thomas School of Business. Twitter handle: @brightpeak

Karl D. Thomas, Chief Innovation Officer, North Memorial Health

Karl Thomas joined North Memorial Health in 2016 as Chief Innovation Officer. Karl leads strategies that reinforce North Memorial Health’s commitment to ensuring that customers have the best experience possible. Karl came to North Memorial Health from Hilton Worldwide where he was Senior Director of the Hampton Brand Global Culture and Internal Communications. Twitter handle: @northmemorial


Jill Wiedemann-West, CEO, People Incorporated

People Incorporated is Minnesota’s largest community-based provider of mental health services and Jill became its first Chief Operating Officer in 2010 and its Chief Executive Officer in 2014. At People Incorporated, Jill has spearheaded an ambitious plan: reshape the organization to execute on a continuum-of-care model to drive improved client outcomes. This effort has had far-reaching effects, from how the organization is structured to how it pays its employees – and how it best serves those who need mental health services. Jill holds a Master of Arts in Psychology and Human Behavior from National University in San Diego, and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Social Work from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Before joining People Incorporated, she was COO at Hazelden Foundation for 11 years. Twitter handle: @peopleincorp

Meet Jill Here!

Heidi E. F. Burton, Chief Human Resources Officer, Stinson Leonard and Street, LLP

Heidi E. F. Burton is the Chief Human Resources Officer of Stinson Leonard Street, LLP, an Am Law 200 firm with a strong mid-west presence. Heidi creates, implements, and oversees administrative programs focused on increasing efficiency, strengthening employees’ skillsets, improving leadership, and maintaining the overall health of the organization. Stinson Leonard Street, LLP is an Am Law 200 firm with a strong mid-west presence. Additionally, she works with organizational leaders to identify needs and set goals, often incorporating behavioral science to enhance employee satisfaction and productivity. Heidi’s professional experience includes over 15 years in Organizational Development and Human Resources Management where she developed a passion for finding innovative solutions to challenges facing law firms today as well as in the future. @StinsonLeonard

Lisa Burns, Development Advisor, Feed My Starving Children

Three years ago, Lisa left her 30 year career in corporate insurance to become a Development Advisor at Feed My Starving Children where she encourages individuals, corporations, churches and schools to generate creative fundraising and volunteer experiences. Feed My Starving Children is a Christian non-profit that provides nutritionally complete meals specifically formulated for malnourished children.  The approach is simple, donors fund the of meal ingredients. Volunteers hand-pack the meals.  Meals are donated to FMSC partners around the world where kids are fed and lives are saved! @fmsc_org


Bill Gray, President North America, Uponor

Bill Gray is the president of Uponor North America, and a member of the Uponor Executive Committee. He holds more than 23 years of experience in the HVAC and industrial supply industries. Prior to becoming the president of Uponor North America, Gray was the general manager for Uponor, Ltd., driving the leadership of all Canadian operations, including sales, marketing, demand management and technical and customer service. He was then promoted to vice president of Sales for Uponor North America, leading all North American sales efforts in the U.S. and Canada, before being promoted to president of the company. He has a Bachelor of Commerce degree in finance and management from Dalhousie University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and history from the University of King’s College. He is a member of the strategic advisory board for the Minnesota Manufacturers Alliance and is also a board member of the Bob Allison Ataxia Research Center at the University of Minnesota. Gray is also a board member of the Minnesota Zoo Foundation and serves as a Greater MSP Partner Advisory Council member to adopt, review and update operational protocols to address regional challenges and opportunities. @uponor

Barry Kudrowitz, Assistant Professor and Director of Product Design at the University of Minnesota.

Barry leads the product design program at the University of Minnesota where he helps students become skilled at uncovering needs of others, generating creative ideas, rapidly visualizing ideas with free-hand sketches and computer models, building physical and digital prototypes to test concepts, and creatively and clearly presenting ideas. Barry received his PhD from the Mechanical Engineering Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), studying humor, creativity, and idea generation. Barry co-designed a Nerf toy, an elevator simulator that is in operation at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., and a ketchup-dispensing robot that was featured on the Martha Stewart Show. @kudrowitz

meier_mnovationMark Meier, Innovation Leader, CH Robinson

Mark Meier has leads innovation for C.H. Robinson. He is responsible for promoting a culture of innovation and implementation of innovation strategy. Mark joined C.H. Robinson in 2007 with past roles in leadership of customer consulting in supply chain and logistics and customer portal product development. Mark’s background is consulting and analysis focused on system research, design and integration. Mark graduated from Iowa State University with a B.S. in Computer Science and a B.A. in German Literature. @CHRobinsonInc


Amelia Franck Meyer, Founder and CEO of ALIA

ALIA provides deep-dive systemic interventions, training, consultation, demonstration projects, and leadership coaching to transform child welfare. Amelia has worked in over half of the states and many countries internationally to promote innovative ideas and to radically re-think child welfare. She is leading a national movement to create a child welfare system across the country where all people – youth and their caregivers – can thrive. Before ALIA, Amelia was the CEO of Anu Family Services, a child welfare agency located in 90 counties in Wisconsin and Minnesota. During her 15-year tenure, Anu produced nationally recognized child permanence and placement stability outcomes for children in out-of-home care and was on the leading edge of promoting and measuring wellbeing for youth and the child welfare workforce. Amelia is a 2015 Bush Fellow and Ashoka Fellow among many other recognitions. @alfranckmeyer

Warren Naviasky, Vice President/Director of Senior Housing Marketing and Sales for Life Care Services, an LCS Company

With 24 years of sales and marketing experience, Warren is paving a new path in senior living across the country. He currently oversees marketing and sales activity, as well as talent management initiatives in marketing and sales, for all Life Care Services equity communities, including Plymouth-based Trillium Woods. Warren developed innovative financial plans to provide consumers with choice and flexibility, customizing each senior’s experience to meet their personal needs. Warren inspires and supports his teams to constantly innovate, encouraging them to ask “why not” and “what if,” as well as let go of the fear of failure to fully embrace and benefit from innovation. Warren serves on the board of directors of the Wyndemere in Wheaton, Illinois, and the Baltimore Educational Institute for Teens of Reformed Judaism.

valenti_mnovationGina Valenti, Vice President, Focused Service Brand Hospitality, Hilton

As the Vice President of Brand Hospitality for Focused Service Brands for Hilton, Gina is a 27-year veteran of the travel and hospitality industries. She is passionate about inspiring Team Members to shine by joyfully engaging their hearts and minds with a brand’s culture and values. Her success in developing Team Members led Hilton to tap Gina in 2010 to lead the company’s first Owner Services Team. The goal: to engage the hearts and minds of franchise owners in each of Hilton Worldwide’s 13 brands. Gina created the first comprehensive, international owners recognition club, new communication channels, numerous national and international events, and the first global database of key owner metrics. In her current position, Gina focuses on igniting Team Members with a brand’s hospitality to deliver the very best in customer service. She makes sure that Hamptonality, Bright Hearted and Tru Spirit help fulfill Hilton’s vision: To fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality – by delivering exceptional experiences – every hotel, every guest, every time. Gina is a graduate of California State University Northridge and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, Human Resource Management/Labor Relations.@HamptonByHilton @HiltonNewsroom

Dr. Vidya Raman-Tangella, Head of UnitedHealthcare’s Innovation Center of Excellence

Vidya and her team design, develop and scale breakthrough innovations that help address unmet health needs through the use of cutting-edge concepts and technology, including mobile apps and integrated health and wellness programs. Vidya is a clinician by training and has more than 20 years of experience in the health care field. Prior to her role at UnitedHealthcare, she held a senior management position at Johnson & Johnson, where she led the design of integrated and tailored health and wellness solutions for employers and health plans. In addition, Vidya helped oversee the company’s start-up organization, providing expertise about strategic partnerships and enterprise integration. An experienced ‘practical innovator’, Vidya has spoken at numerous health care and technology conferences, including the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the Cleveland Clinic Innovation Summit, the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Conference (HBA), the Employer Healthcare Congress, and the “Unleashing Innovation Summit.”.  She was recognized as a “Woman Worth Watching” by the Diversity Journal Magazine. @UnitedHealthGrp

Sondra Samuels NAZSondra Samuels, President and CEO the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ)

Along with parents, students, partners and staff, Sondra is leading a revolutionary culture shift in North Minneapolis that is focused on ending multigenerational poverty through education and family stability. The NAZ Collaborative, made up of 43 partner nonprofits and schools, is working toward a single goal—to prepare low-income North Minneapolis children to graduate from high school ready for college. NAZ has scaled up in support of over 1,000 parents and 2,300 students as they turn the social service model on its head and lead the creation of a college-bound culture throughout the community. Ms. Samuels is a 19-year resident of North Minneapolis and a national leader committed to results-based accountability. She and her team work tirelessly to ensure the integration of effective cradle-to-career solutions across the NAZ collaborative; to scale and sustain results across the community, and to achieve the systems and policy changes needed for families and children of color to truly share in the prosperity of the Twin Cities Region. Under her leadership, NAZ was named a federal Promise Neighborhood, and has become a nationally recognized model for comprehensive community development and systems change.Sondra also serves on the Leadership team of Generation Next, (a Strive Initiative); the boards of Minnesota Private College Council and the Center for the Study of Social Policy; and the 2018 Super Bowl Host Committee Advisory Board. She was also appointed by the Governor to serve on the Hennepin County Forth Judicial Selection Commission. @SondraSamuels

janette_shimanski_mnovationJan Shimanski, Chief Learning Officer, 3M

Jan’s  role brings to life 3M’s commitment to leadership development. It’s a good fit for someone whose favorite compliment came from a boss who chalked Jan’s professional success up to her personal passion for helping people develop. Before this position, Jan was Vice President, 3M Global Talent Solutions. Her work in human resources is predated by a career largely spent in marketing, strategy and general management.Jan has served as Vice President, 3M Global Marketing Excellence, responsible for global marketing strategy and execution. Before that, she was Vice President, 3M International Marketing and Strategy, a $20 billion franchise for 3M with more than 4,000 marketing professionals. Jan rejoined 3M in April 2008 after a 12-year career at Medtronic, Inc., where she held various leadership roles in corporate strategy, general management and marketing. Prior to her time with Medtronic, Jan worked at 3M for 10 years in health care marketing. Jan holds a master’s in business from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, as well as a Ph.D. in business from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. @3M

warfa_mnovationHamse Warfa, Founder and Vice Chairman, BanQu

Hamse is a philanthropic adviser, social entrepreneur and former Program Officer at Margaret A. Cargill Foundation managing the foundation’s global and domestic children & families and health investments. Hamse has 18 years of experience in philanthropy/nonprofit and global development finance. He is an author, a part-time Doctoral candidate in Public Admin at Hamline University, M.S. in Management & Leadership from Springfield College, B.A. political Science from San Diego State University. @hamse_warfa

mnovation_ahujaDr. Simone Ahuja is the internationally best-selling author of “Jugaad Innovation” and founder of Blood Orange, an innovation and strategy advisory boutique. Dr. Ahuja has served as a consultant to the Centre for India & Global Business at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, and as an associate Fellow for the Asia Society in New York City.  She provides innovation and strategy services to organizations including 3M, Procter & Gamble, Target Corp, the World Economic Forum and MIT. She is a regular columnist for the Harvard Business Review online.



Jacquie Berglund is The Rambunctious Social Entrepreneur, CEO and Co- Founder of FINNEGANS, the first beer company in the world to donate 100% of profits to fund fresh produce for those in need. Through the creation of both FINNEGANS Inc. and its nonprofit counterpart, FINNEGANS Community Fund, Berglund has championed an innovative, market- based approach to addressing and raising awareness about food security in communities across the Midwest.



Christopher Finlay is the author of “Getting to Thank You – A Practitioner’s Guide to Innovation” and Senior Director of Product Experience Design at UnitedHealth Group. Chris is an innovation expert and designer with a mission to help people do their best work. At UHG, Chris designs and delivers human centered health services across channels and across products as part of the Optum Consumer Experience team. He enjoys working at the intersection of design, business, operations, tech, and marketing to bring experiences to people’s lives.


Catherine Gray is the Director of Impact Strategy Civic Engagement at the Minneapolis Foundation.

She leads strategic grantmaking, advocacy, and partnerships to advance equity through civic participation. An expert in leadership development, she is known internationally for her previous work at The White House Project, an organization aimed at increasing the number of women in civic leadership. Catherine’s work is informed by her varied life experience as an entrepreneur and an innovator, an athlete and a filmmaker.


Stephanie Hammes-Betti is Senior Vice President of Innovation Design for the U.S. Bank Innovation Group.

She leads a team who are responsible for the development and execution of Innovation engagement programs to promote and grow Innovation talent with in the company. She and her team are also responsible for providing education on new trends, managing the U.S. Bank Innovation Community, the Innovator in Residence program and for collaborating with the lines of business on the piloting of new digital tools into their marketing programs.


Bruce Lambrecht is currently the President of MTM Investments, a real estate and early stage investment company.  He has both a corporate and entrepreneurial background and has extensive experience in taking an idea and following it through to execution and hopes to share that with the audience at the Innovation seminar.


Jenni Lilledahl is the Founder of Gilda’s Club Twin Cities, a free and welcoming “clubhouse” where everyone living with cancer can come for social, emotional and psychological support. In 2005 Jenni joined forces with two other community leaders to begin the journey of raising $3.8 million from 2,200 donors over eight years, buying and renovating a building, hiring staff, creating programming, engaging a medical advisory board and building a community. Jenni is also a co-owner of the Brave New Workshop and the leader of its non-profit arm, the Student Union.

mnovation_vikasVikas Narula is an entrepreneur, blogger, speaker, adjunct professor and Co-founder of Keyhubs. 

After spending 15 years in the start-up world, Vikas stumbled-upon his own business idea of Keyhubs, a software-enabled management consulting company specializing in the power of human connection, while completing his MBA at Duke University. Around the same time (2009), Vikas started Neighborhood Forest – a social venture dedicated to giving free trees to schoolchildren every Earth Day. He is passionate about purpose-driven entrepreneurship and teaches on the subject, as an Adjunct, at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

Philomena Morrissey Satre is currently the VP of Organizational Effectiveness and the former VP of Diversity and Inclusion at Wells Fargo. 

She has worked with 72 Diversity and Inclusion networks and five diversity councils in 15 states, focusing on recruitment, retention and reputation, and ROI. In partnership with Hamline University and the U.S. State Department, she led a Middle East Fellows peace and economic development project.

mnovation_stephensonIan Stephenson is the former VP of Organizational Effectiveness at Cargill

Ian is an experienced and successful global business leader, organizational consultant and advisor to executives. Ian has hands on experience of building organization capabilities in innovation, customer focus, marketing and change management. He developed a leadership academy that was frequently cited as best practice and recognized with external awards several times.

mnovation_patPatrick Waddick is the President of Innovation and Operations at Cirrus Aircraft.

He is responsible for leading enterprise-wide Innovation and Operations activities including research and development, engineering, program management, manufacturing operations, global supply chain and quality. Patrick began his professional affiliations first with AIAA at the University of Wisconsin, Madison as a student chapter Vice President. In 2004, he was the recipient of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Hap Arnold Award for Excellence in Program Management.

Rob Zeaske-high res-RGB-cropped.jpg

Rob Zeaske is the Chief Executive Officer of Second Harvest Heartland. 

Under Rob’s direction, Second Harvest Heartland has not only grown in size and scale, but also has earned a reputation as an innovator and national thought leader in hunger relief. Rob is helping change the conversation about hunger relief by bringing together partners from private and public organizations that have a stake in closing the missing meal gap.

The new MNovation Seminar Series is a unique opportunity for professionals at all levels to spark innovative thinking and behaviors by participating in interactive sessions with some of Minnesota’s top innovators in a full-day session at the Brave New Workshop’s Experimental Thinking Centre (ETC).

Attendees will learn and practice five behaviors proven to spark innovation, and increase the amount of time we spend in a mindset of discovery. This series is the first of its kind, combining the resources of innovation behavioralist, author and trainer John Sweeney and the Brave New Workshop’s Creative Outreach and some of Minnesota’s most innovative people and organizations.