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Event Profile: MANOVA Summit

By Josephine Werni

Some may be surprised to hear that the young, ambitious and largely successful MANOVA Summit was born from a defeat.

On Nov. 22, 2017, Minnesota lost the bid for the 2023 World’s Fair to Argentina. Former Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and his Expo 2023 bid committee were especially intent on bringing this World’s Fair to Minnesota because of the event’s proposed theme: health and wellness.

What the North Star State lacks in marketing budgets and celebrity status, it makes up for in an undeniably impressive repertoire of health care institutions and technologies. Mayo Clinic, Medtronic, the internal pacemaker and MinuteClinics are only a few of the contributions Minnesota has made to the world of health care.

“It isn’t just health care either. We’ve got an ecosystem around health—our food, our water, our outdoors—the way Minnesotans think about health really resonated with a lot of people while we were doing that work,” says Kathy Tunheim, partner in 2023 Partners, the producing partner of MANOVA, and founder and CEO of public relations consulting firm Tunheim Partners.

The bid, though ultimately unsuccessful, gathered a momentum and collection of resources that many committee members felt was too valuable to ignore. Tunheim, Mark Addicks, CEO of 2023 Partners, and Arick Wierson, partner in 2023 Partners, set to work planning a new health and wellness event for Minnesota—one that would aim to capture the broadest possible definition of health and bring consumers into the conversation.

Tunheim, Addicks and Wierson finalized their idea for the first MANOVA Summit in early April 2018 and decided it would take place on Oct. 8, 2018 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. In only six months, the team pulled together a universal health convention that drew 1,100 attendees, some of which had flown in from the far corners of the globe.

The summit boasted a hefty lineup of speakers, interactive sessions and networking opportunities. Conversation topics ranged from access and affordability to nutrition and the politics of health care. According to Tunheim, it was immediately evident after the first summit that MANOVA would return for many years to come.

“I joke that I’m old enough to have gone to some of the early SXSW conferences in Texas, and Mark Addicks is actually originally from Austin. So we both had an understanding of what happened there—how it started and how it’s evolved,” Tunheim says. “A lot of our thinking was how to create that kind of vibe, except focused on a really broad and really global definition of health.”

The first thing 2023 Partners did postMANOVA 2018 was ask every single attendee for their feedback. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with most guests saying they would attend the event again. They also indicated that while they enjoyed the array of speakers, they would have preferred more chances to network and thoroughly examine certain topics.

“One of the things that we’ll do in year two is build opportunities for both deeper dives on certain topics and for more space in between for all of these people, many of whom have never met before, to share stories and talk informally,” Tunheim says.

Additionally, the MANOVA team intends to focus much more on the overall experience of visiting Minnesota for participants coming from out of state and beyond in 2019 by planning plenty of interesting events outside of the conference. This is where Meet Minneapolis, which is connected to MANOVA via founding partner Medical Alley Association, comes in.

Nathan Hermiston, senior director of destination and sales for Meet Minneapolis, views the success of the MANOVA Summit as a huge step toward making Minnesota a premier destination for medical meetings.

“For a city of our size to have that sort of brainpower and firepower in the medical field is pretty unique,” says Hermiston. “We are competing against the San Franciscoes of the world, and the New Yorks and the Bostons. Some of those more traditional, ‘sexier,’ firsttier cities, you know. But there’s a great story to tell here in Minneapolis.”

While Minneapolis has a great story to tell, it has fewer resources to tell it than with other larger cities, Hermiston explains. Therefore, having a well-known, non-Minnesotan presenting partner like Walmart is extremely advantageous for MANOVA.

Both the MANOVA and Meet Minneapolis teams were thrilled when the multinational retail corporation offered its support to the summit. They feel that a partnership with a global, consumer-oriented company like Walmart speaks to one of the fundamental themes of the conference: bringing health and wellness to the consumer level.

“How are we going to make this field, which is very complex, bureaucratic and layered, to the consumer level in a fashion that makes sense? Companies like Walmart see that moving forward and they think, ‘I want to be a part of that,’” Hermiston says.

As both a large employer and a company that has stores in communities all over the country, Walmart understands how much innovation is needed in this space, particularly at the consumer level. Too often, consumers leave their interactions with the health and wellness realm feeling like a number.

A key component of MANOVA’s global health and wellness thesis is the implementation of more personalized health care plans for consumers. The MANOVA team hopes to show people how much control they actually have over the future of health by bringing them into conversations with businesses and other economic players.

“The current model they have is not sustainable. How does the health and medical field become more sustainable for consumers?” Hermiston says. “Not for business, but for consumers in the future moving forward. That’s a question MANOVA’s trying to answer.”