10 Key Takeaways from Biz 417's 2024 Think Summit

Whether you missed this year's Biz 417 Think Summit or you just want a refresher, here are some of our biggest takeaways from the event.

by Katie Pollock Estes

Apr 04 2024 at 8 a.m.

Think Summit 2024 speakers with publisher Logan Aguirre
Photo by Katy St. ClairBiz 417's 2024 Think Summit was a day filled with excellent connections and big ideas shared by the brightest thought leaders. Purchase Photo

Did you miss Biz 417’s 2024 Think Summit? It was a day filled with excellent connections and big ideas shared by the brightest thought leaders. Here are 10 of our favorite takeaways—plus a link for on-demand access to all the day’s presentations.

1. If You Think You’re Good at LinkedIn, You’re Wrong

The audience was rapt when Richard Bliss, CEO of Blisspoint, taught us how to hack the LinkedIn algorithm. Bliss came all the way from Silicon Valley to share his wisdom, and we couldn’t take notes fast enough! You just have to watch his presentation to get the full picture, but the big message: LinkedIn doesn’t work like any other social media platform, and there are a ton of tricks you can use to understand the algorithm and make it work for you.

2. AI is Exciting. AI is Scary.

Thomas Douglas, president and CEO of JMARK, started his presentation by saying, “AI is a freight train that is coming. It’s something that you’re either going to get on board with, or it’s going to run you over.” And the ride just got wilder from there on out. The big takeaway is that AI is not going to take your job, but someone who’s better at using AI than you might. With a growing range of AI tools, we need leaders who can guide the ethical use of these exciting opportunities.

3. Private and Public Sector Collaboration is the Catalyst for Change

How exciting is this? Erin Danastasio of The Hatch Foundation and Dean Thompson of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce announced at Think Summit that a new CEO-led leadership group called Lore has been founded to help 417-land with regional branding, workforce attraction and quality of life. Lore stands for Leaders for Ozarks Regional Evolvement, and it draws inspiration from storytelling with the tagline “Writing the future of our region.” The plan is to facilitate private and public sector collaboration to achieve the kind of success areas like Tulsa and Northwest Arkansas have seen in recent decades. We can’t wait to see what comes next!

4. The Fight to Rise is a Mindset

When you think of a future financial tech executive, do you think of a teen mom on a job hunt? Maybe you should. Simoriah Stogner escaped a rough childhood and took a leap applying for a job at Jack Henry. That bright and driven woman is now the company’s Senior Manager of Technology Services. She shared the principles that helped guide her to success, and our favorite was this: Let vision and purpose drive you.

5. We Need to Keep International Students in 417-land

Dami Odunewu, CEO/Co-Founder of Purpose Connect and an immigrant from Nigeria, says 65% of international students leave the state in which they studied due to a lack of employment. That’s bad news, considering 2022 data showed a labor shortage to the tune of 60 unemployed workers for every 100 job openings. Employers can be hesitant to invest in sponsoring and hiring an international student (the process is expensive and unfamiliar). But it's an investment that pays off. International employees have an incredible retention rate: 70% stay with the company that hired them for at least five years.

6. Taking Care of You is Non-Negotiable

There’s a lot to love about the words of wisdom shared by Hal Donaldson, CEO and founder of Convoy of Hope (and Biz 417’s 2023 Person of the Year). In addition to telling us about Convoy of Hope’s mission and vision, he also discussed some of the difficult challenges in his childhood that led to him asking tough questions about life. He said: “You can be paralyzed by unanswerable questions, or you can stay busy. It’s better to do something than to do nothing.” For Convoy of Hope, that something is helping people in need the world over. And Donaldson has learned over the years that you simply can’t give your best to others if you aren’t taking care of yourself first. Self-care is crucial, and he’s even written a new book all about it.

7. We Should Be the Bunny

In a panel discussion with Springfield Art Museum’s Kate Francis, City Utilities’ Gary Gibson, the Springfield Cardinals’ Dan Reiter and the City of Springfield’s Tim Rosenbury, Reiter made an analogy to dog racing. Dog racing is illegal in most places, but for the sake of this blog, just play along and pretend it’s not. In dog racing, there are spectators, dogs and the bunny they chase. He said Springfield used to be a spectator. Now, it’s a dog fully in the race. But to be our best, we need to be the bunny instead: the thing that’s too good to be true that everybody is chasing. Can we really be the place that other cities wish they were? When the dreams of these panelists come to fruition, we just might be.

8. Tech Start-Ups Are the Future

According to Dr. James Stapleton, co-founder of Codefi, data from the U.S. Census bureau shows that 82% of new jobs in recent years were created by new companies, ­­many of them tech companies. If we decided today to start 50 new high-tech, high-growth companies in 417-land, we’d add 250 jobs with an annual economic impact of more than $40 million. He says Springfield could become the start-up capital of the Midwest, but we need folks here who are laser focused on economic development to make it happen.

9. Being Uncomfortable is an Opportunity

Johnny McNeil, VP of Community Relations at Community Partnerships of the Ozarks, left a star-studded NFL agent career in St. Louis (working with Marshall Faulk, Nelly and more) to make Springfield his home. What he found was a city that needed some changes (more minority business owners, more cultural sensitivity), and a city where he had access to and strong relationships with community leaders. In the end, he fell in love with this ever-evolving place. We loved his humor- and heart-packed story, and you just have to hear it in the on-demand access videos.

10. Connections are Everything

Art Hains, the director of broadcasting at Missouri State University who is lovingly known as “The Voice,” shared the inspiring story of his long career in sports broadcasting, his battle with West Nile Virus and what he’s learned along the way. One of his best bits of career advice is to keep up with your contacts because you never know when they could help you out. For Hains, a strong connection ended up getting him the high-level medical care he needed to beat the virus and come out on top.

What Now?

If your mind’s on fire, you don’t have to stop here. Get on-demand access to all of the Think Summit presentation.*

*If you did not attend Think Summit 2024, on-demand video content is $25. If you did attend the event, on-demand video content is $10 now through Sunday April 7.