Mnovation panel 8
Mnovation panel 7

MNOVATION: Ready. Set. Go!

October 12, 2017 Brave New Workshop Minneapolis

This isn’t your average conference!

MNovation gathers some of the most innovative minds from across our state for an all day party designed to help you:

  • Open your mind through exposure to smart cookies from a wide variety of industries and companies.
  • Bust out of your comfort zone with hands-on exercises.
  • Learn and network with panelists and other innovators that are getting it done every day!


Learn from the best – this diverse group of innovators can teach you how to get your mind right, stay the course, and change the world.

Our panelists play in large corporate environments, small companies, social enterprises, academia, government, non-profits, media and arts organizations.

Confirmed innovation wizards are below and we are adding more every day. View a list of past panelists.


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

Diana Shulla-Cose, Co-Founder and PresidentPerspectives Charter Schools

After working as a teacher for the Chicago Arch Diocese, and then for Chicago Public Schools, Diana co-founded Perspectives as a school-within-a-school in 1993. Despite coming from some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in Chicago, Perspectives students graduate from high school, enroll in college, and persist towards graduation at rates above the national average. The key to these results is a social-emotional learning curriculum and culture called A Disciplined Life®, which Diana co-created. The A Disciplined Life curriculum is in process of being shared with schools throughout Chicago and the country, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Twitter handle: @PCSEDU

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!


8:30 AM – 9 AM Registration and light breakfast

9:00 AM – 10:15 AM Keynote and Warm Up: John Sweeney and Elena Imaretska on the Mindset of Discovery

10:15 AM – 10:30 AM Break

10:30 AM – 11:30 AM Panel 1: Ready(your surroundings)

Communities need innovation and innovation needs communities – but how do you line the two up to help and idea become a reality? This panel features women who are doing just that by inspiring and igniting their communities to get up and get moving, change attitudes on mental health, get their finances in order by using technology and supporting education in a whole new way.

11:30 AM – 12:30 PM Panel 2: Set(the tone)

Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum – you need a culture to support the mission, and this panel examines how to create a culture of innovation. From smaller school districts to hospitals to massive scientific conglomerates, these panelists have shifted mindsets to create amazing results.

12:30 PM – 1:30 PM Lunch

1:30 PM – 3:00 PM Innovation Fitness Sessions: Big Five Workout Breakouts facilitated by BNW Master Facilitators: Bobby Gardner, Caleb McEwen, Jenni Lilledahl, Lauren Anderson, Margi Simmons

3:00 PM – 3:15 PM Break

3:15 PM – 4:15 PM Panel 3: Go!

You have the idea, you have community, you have the attitude, now get started! This panel will help you get started, from learning how to get funding to branding your idea to building up your project, business, or goals to maintain and sustain. Learn, grow, and then get out there and do!

4:15 PM – 4:45 PM Personal Innovation Activation Plan and Discussion

4:45 PM – 5:00 PM Wrap up

5:00 PM – 6:00 PM Happy Hour Squared (HH2)
Attendees are invited to take part in fun and relaxing happy hour after a full day of learning! This happy hour will be like no other as we’ll be making sandwiches to be distributed to the hungry by Mr. Law’s MRD 363 Days Food Program.


All MNovation attendees will receive John Sweeney’s groundbreaking new book The Innovative Mindset, which helps you identify what you need to do in order to become more innovative and less fearful, and assists in creating a regimen that transforms how you act. Whether personally or in a business setting, this text provides a fresh, practical understanding of innovation can revolutionize the way you think about work. | More about THE BOOK HERE!