MNovation: The Innovation Culture Conference

Stay tuned for Spring 2020 Date at the Brave New Workshop Minneapolis

Get a real-world perspective on the human side of innovation

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!

You will learn and practice five behaviors proven to create a change-ready culture, engaged teams, and an environment that welcomes the whole human. This series is the first of its kind in its focus on the mindset + behaviors that fuel innovation not just the systems, tools and skills necessary.

I learned a ton, met lots of interesting people and have some cool ideas to take back to my business. I was really impressed with the whole day and your team.

Kristin Dennewill

President, Denamico, A Certified Hubspot Digital Growth Agency


Learn from the best – our 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 panelists will be below, we are adding new rockstars every day. If you are curious about past events see past panelists.

Ali DeCamillis, Program Director, Gilda’s Club Twin Cities

Ali is an accomplished and caring leader (MS, LPCC, ATR) making a difference as the Program Director at Gilda’s Club Twin Cities, a local affiliate of the Cancer Support Community, which provides social and emotional support to anyone touched by cancer. She is a registered art therapist and licensed professional clinical counselor who has worked with adults, children and teens living with cancer and their families in both healthcare and community settings.  Through her work in oncology/hematology and palliative care she has seen the importance and value of inviting creativity into one’s life throughout all life stages and manages a diverse set of programs at Gilda’s which affect thousands of individuals each year. Partnerships play a critical role in making Gilda’s Club a success for the families it supports. Ali will share stories about two recent partnerships: LISTEN/™ Stories of Cancer told through Movement, Music, and Voice, a series of workshops and a performance created  with cancer patients in partnership with Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater. Twin Cities Public Television documented the process and produced a 26-minute documentary called LISTEN/Stories of Cancer and Resilience – that aired in February 2018 and was recently nominated for an Upper Midwest EMMY. The second initiative is LISTEN/™ Dear Cancer – a teen creative writing/essay contest that elevates the voices of teens impacted by cancer. @GildasClubTC 

Paul (Fran-zik) Frantzich, Creative Lead, CITIES Market Studios

Paul grew up in the western suburbs of Minneapolis and has embraced a life journey of music, philanthropy, and now helping amazing new products land on the shelves and sites of the world’s largest retailers. Paul is fascinated by how subtle adjustments in language and position make the difference between failure or wild success. He leads creative teams at CITIES, a global consumer product and retail strategy company, which collaborates with retail, brands and inventors to develop and execute strategies, products and programs for the digital and physical markets. He also leads the non-profit he founded in 2007, Feed Them with Music (FTWM), an entertainment business that organizes events and creates content that educate communities, and inspire donations that fund feeding programs both domestically and internationally. Paul believes we are living in a time where unimaginable positive things are about to happen. The walls between us are growing thin. Technology has opened a passage to uncharted waters teeming with possibility. 75% of our global population is holding a mobile phone in their hand. Blockchain is elevating trust via perfect math. Our collective imagination is running toward the intersection of peer-to-peer connectivity and philanthropic action. Paul inspires us to be nourished by the profound bonds formed when we create…together. @CITIESms @FTWM

Cheryl Jass, VP Education, Aveda

Cheryl is a inspiring learning and development leader with 20 years of experience in helping professionals in various industries embrace a learning mindset and excel. Before jumping into the world of beautiful hair and sustainability at Aveda, Cheryl was the VP of Training at Ecolab where she led the creation of optimal learning strategies and training plans for associates in multi-level field sales, distribution, corporate accounts. She was paying close attention to the learning journeys and progress of 3500 field associates. Cheryl also instituted transformational change from paper training to digital electronic training materials, eBooks, videos and created Virtual Instructor Lead Training program to reduce travel and logistic expense. She was an active member of cross functional leadership and global teams for corporate wide training initiatives for 40,000 global employees. Cheryl is a life-long learner, a student of human behavior and knows how crucial culture is to any organization’s success. @aveda

Barry Jass, Director Training Operations, Medtronic

Barry is an innovative thinker and doer who continues to reinvent himself and the way he creates powerful experiences for learners. He has built his learning and development expertise and career on the foundation of teaching in the classroom – he has found that the requirement for creativity and engaging content and delivery is shared among young and adult learners. Barry is currently leading efforts to increase the sales effectiveness of 6,000 professionals all across the globe. The balance between ensuring consistency of learning and messages with the culturally-appropriate style of delivery and communication is an exciting area Barry and his team continue to flex their creativity muscles in. Barry is also excited about exploring how new technology will enable a completely new and more effective way of training people in an immersive way all across the board. Barry relied on strong internal partnerships and alignment of values and vision in order to drive results and move the needle on speed and effectiveness of Medtronic’s training programs.@Medtronic

Sona Mehring Founder CaringBridgeSona Mehring, Founder, CaringBridge

Sona is a life-long entrepreneur who, in middle-school, realized her two gerbils (who were suppose to be 2 males but were a male/female pair) could be a source of income. Selling the over-inventory of gerbils for $1 each, Sona was suddenly an entrepreneur for life. After five various business starts (3 failures), Sona founded CaringBridge in 1997 when the Internet was just becoming a household name, making her one of the first to recognize that the Internet could create a powerful connection for people to receive emotional and physical support during a health journey. CaringBridge grew from helping a friend in need, to bringing 35+ million people together annually on the CaringBridge.org website. Sona left CaringBridge in 2017 and now continues to help entrepreneur organizations make a difference through her practice as an EOS implementer and speaker. Sona is frequently recognized and honored for her passion and visionary leadership. She is the author of “Hope Conquers All” and serves on several nonprofit boards. @gogosona 

Dr. Ramón A. Pastrano IV, CEO, ImpactLives

With over 25 years of experience in leadership among many different cultures around the world, Ramón founded ImpactLives in 2007 to create a dual model of transformational leadership and social innovation. His model is designed to teach and optimize Service Learning Experiences, Transformational Leadership, Development and Global Competencies, which leads to social innovation and produces sustainable works of social justice. Ramón has lived in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and has traveled extensively for humanitarian efforts throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Israel, Jordan, India, Palestine, Africa, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Korea, China, Cambodia, Thailand and Japan. As a graduate of the U.S. Naval Supply Corps School, Ramon served as a Commanding Officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He received his Bachelor of Arts from Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa; his Master of Arts in Theological Studies and his Doctorate in Global and Contextual Leadership from Bethel University and Seminary in St Paul, Minnesota. Prior to creating ImpactLives, Ramón spent 15 years as a surgical consultant and medical device specialist. He is the recipient of multiple awards for innovation. Never one to sit on the sidelines, Ramón has a Master Degree (5th) in Tae Kwon Do. Other interests include ballroom dance and dance sports, and he played semi-pro basketball in the Puerto Rican Professional Basketball League. @ImpactQuest 

Amy Spartz Head of Human Resources GravieAmy Spartz, Head of Human Resources, Gravie

Gravie is a Minneapolis-based company that’s reinventing health benefits, making them easier and more affordable for employers and employees. As of recently, Amy also leads the company’s customer success team, ensuring that Gravie’s customers – both employers and their employees – get the most out of their experience. Amy has over twenty years of experience in human resources and two months of experience in customer success. Prior to Gravie, Amy was the senior vice president at ECMC Group, a student loan services organization, and a human capital partner with Optum Health. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of St. Thomas. When she’s done with her day job, Amy heads to St. Anthony Main where she and her husband own three restaurants. Amy is an avid reader and spends a lot of time with her nose buried in a book. Whenever she can muster up the energy for a show, she also loves to see and hear live music. @gogravie

Alene Tchourumoff, Chair, Metropolitan Council

Alene has spent the last decade serving at the intersection of infrastructure finance and policy. She was appointed as Minnesota’s first State Rail Director by Governor Mark Dayton in 2016. In this capacity, she led the efforts to enhance railway safety, pursue needed infrastructure improvements, continue training and support for first responders, closely monitor rail movements, and work with communities and railroad companies to ensure the safe and efficient operation of rail systems across Minnesota. Previously, Alene served as Director of the Planning Department for Hennepin County Public Works, where she led the county’s comprehensive planning efforts. Prior to her work with Hennepin County Alene was a manager for Deloitte Consulting in Washington, D.C., where she served as a financial and strategic policy advisor to the Federal Railroad Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation, focused on program implementation and financing. She also previously served as manager in the transportation and finance practice for Infrastructure Management Group, advising clients in California, Texas, and Puerto Rico on transportation policy and finance issues. In addition to her decade of professional experience in infrastructure policy, planning, and finance, Alene has served as an Agricultural Development advisor to the World Bank, and has worked extensively in China and Southeast Asia on public policy and public health efforts – including efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in China and Vietnam. Alene earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from George Washington University School of Business, and a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. @MetCouncilNews

Bao Vang, Engagement Manager, ThreeSixty Journalism, St. Thomas University

Bao inspires and equips diverse Minnesota youth to tell the stories of their lives and communities through the innovative ThreeSixty Journalism program at the University of St. Thomas. Bao fell in love with broadcasting and media in high school herself and pursued her passion to become the first mainstream journalist of Hmong ethnicity in the country. She spent eight years working as the morning anchor at WSAW-TV in Wausau, Wisconsin, and as the weekend evening news anchor and a reporter at WBAY-TV in Green Bay before returning to the Twin Cities and dedicating her time to addressing the many barriers young people of color still face when it comes to higher education. She is proud of the work ThreeSixty champions: creating and supporting the new generation of critical thinkers, media professionals and leaders. In addition to the meaningful work at ThreeSixty Bao is currently pursuing her MBA at the University of St. Thomas while raising her three children with her husband Noah. @ThreeSixtyMN

Alex West Steinman, Founder, The Coven

Alex gets more things done in one day than most people do in an entire month. She’s a swiss army knife who knows how to raise humans, build and deploy Public Relations strategies for businesses, politicians, startups, non-profits, and is also the President of MadWomen, a groundbreaking organization dedicated to the advancement of women in the advertising business in the Twin Cities. Prior to co-founding The Coven, Alex held the position of Communications Director for Fallon, Minneapolis City Council candidate Jillia Pessenda, and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges. Leading PR and comms strategy and execution, she helps brands get noticed through earned media. She has a blog and apparel company called Strong Like Mama, dedicated to celebrating the struggles and triumphs of real moms and their little ones. Her multitude of skills and tireless work ethic is exactly the stuff bosses are made of. Alex loves her two kids, husband, Oprah, and Beyonce in no particular order. She also genuinely just really likes people in general. On a bad (or good) day you can find her curled up with a plate of microwave nachos. @thecovenmpls

The panel discussions were great, enjoyed the interactive workshop, and the super interesting people I met. I always appreciate ending the day packing sandwiches, a powerful reminder of the work we need to do in the community.

Philomena Satre

Director, Diversity and Inclusion, Land o'Lakes


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 The Crafters: Cheryl Jass, Sona Mehring, Amy Spartz, Alex West Steinman

These amazing leaders have crafted businesses, cultures and experiences that continue to have an impact on thousands of people every day. We will learn about the human side of innovation and change, the importance of culture on the health of an organization and the power of community.

11:30 AM – 12:30 PM Panel 2 The Amplifiers: Barry Jass, Ramon Pastrano, Bao Vang

If you are wondering how to bring diverse points of view and voices to table, look no further than this amazing panel of innovators who will share insight from a corporate perspective, a social enterprise and a non-profit. Amazing stories and forward-looking insights will be woven in a tapestry of glocal (global + local) approaches as we learn how to listen to and amplify voices that matter.

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, Jenni Lilledahl, Lauren Anderson, Margi Simmons, Heather Meyer

3:00 PM – 3:15 PM Break

3:15 PM – 4:15 PM Panel 3 The Connectors: Paul Frantzich, Ali DeCamillis, Alene Tchourumoff  

Bringing divergent, possibly competing points of view together for the common good is never easy, but these innovators continue to do it every day. From executives looking for innovation, to local governments  sharing resources, to cancer patients receiving social and emotional support – we will hear about building common ground, partnerships and trust and most importantly continuing to move forward and be human.

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.

Networking at conferences usually intimidate me, but the atmosphere was so fun that I was able to comfortably talk to people and I had some really good conversations. You guys are doing cool work!

Maddi Wagner

Project Coordinator, Capsule, Strategic Brand Design Agency

The workshop focus on positivity and reframing challenges as opportunities is really relevant to my role. I’ve been applying this all week and will continue to use this technique with my team moving forward!

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!