Next week’s The Innovators in Kansas City is a much-anticipated event known for bringing together successful entrepreneurs, investors, advisors, and thought leaders from near and far.
Events will take place during the day at The Alamo Drafthouse where the 2017 Fellows will vie to be named Innovator of the Year, an award that is comprised of three components: performance during the Fellowship year, scores from their retooled business plans post-Pipeline impact, and presentations given during the “pitch” competition.
Following the daytime competition, the evening gala will begin at Midland Theatre with a networking reception with regional, national, and international entrepreneurial leaders. During the evening event, Innovator of the Year will be awarded, along with awards for long-time Pipeline entrepreneurial members who continue to grow and lead in their careers. Pipeline will also announce the recipient of its coveted Entrepreneurial Leadership Award, along with its membership awards for entrepreneurial growth and inspiration.
SPN caught up with The Innovators co-hosts Blake Lawrence, opendorse CEO and Co-Founder, and Will Compton, Washington Redskins linebacker, to talk about their involvement in Pipeline and what guests can expect next Thursday night.
SPN: You two are friends outside of Pipeline and now you’re co-hosting The Innovators together. Let’s take it back to the beginning––how did you guys meet?
BL: Will and I are great friends, if not best friends. We both played football together at Nebraska. We played the same position and I recruited him.
WC: Blake’s comments about best friends is a stretch. But Blake was my host when I was getting recruited by Nebraska. I would say ever since that visit, Blake and I have grown close throughout Football and off the field. He’s been someone I’ve always been able to count on.
SPN: And how long have you guys been involved in Pipeline?
BL: I was a 2012 fellow. I was part of the first class that had fellows from Nebraska.
WC: I was invited back in 2014 to entertain for a few minutes with Blake. I think I’ve overstayed my invite but fortunately they haven’t said anything yet.
SPN: Is this your first time emceeing an event together or are you pros at the co-hosting game?
BL: It will not be the first time and hopefully, it won’t be the last. This is the third time that Will and I will grace the stage of The Innovators to entertain the Pipeline audience. The very first time, we stole the show. The second time, we reinvented entertain. This time we’re going to transform an entire community.
WC: This is my first time, and I’m very nervous. But we can go with what Blake said.
SPN: What can a first-time attendee expect to experience at The Innovators on the 25th?
BL: The Innovators is an over-the-top celebration. We’re going to be celebrating Pipeline and the magic of being a part of the Pipeline family, but it’s also a celebration of all entrepreneurship and innovation in the Midwest. Most first-time guests at The Innovators leave with newfound respect, surprise and delight at what’s happening in the community.
I will give props all day long to Joni and the folks behind the scenes that make all this possible. It’s a production, and I know that Joni will start planning the next Innovators the day after the show. She spends a year putting together the creative vision for The Innovators.
SPN: The entrepreneurial and innovation community works so hard. Why is it so important to celebrate what’s happening?
BL: I believe that The Innovators are a great excuse for the founders, their family and the team they’ve built, to step away from the stress and grind that consumes them on a 24/7 basis and just let loose and celebrate and award others. It’s a microcosm of what Pipeline is as an entire organization. There is a work hard, play hard mentality here. Very rarely are founders and entrepreneurs able to surround themselves with other people in the same situation, trying to solve problems and change the world. That’s what happens in each module behind closed doors. The Innovators brings that onto center stage. If it doesn’t inspire you to start a company, it certainly inspires you to want to support it.
SPN: Is the desire to join the community one of the takeaways you hope people gain from attending The Innovators?
BL: A successful Innovators show will inspire everyone in the audience to try something new, whether that’s starting, joining or investing in a company, whether that’s becoming the customer of a Midwest startup, that’s the inspiration. You feel this urge, this need, that you should be a part of this.
WC: I’m not an attendee for being an innovator or an entrepreneur. All I know is that each and every time I go it inspires me to learn more and stay connected with this network of people. Regardless of why anyone comes, be ready to walk away trying to think of the next big thing or joining in with someone creating the next best thing.
SPN: The Innovators is known for its surprises. Can you give us any hints about this year’s surprises?
WC: Next question.
BL: Joni would not be very happy if I gave out any hints, and she knows I’m one to leak information. I will say that the surprises at The Innovators are so well-kept that Will and I are the hosts of the event and we don’t even know what surprises are planned. Other than the fact that if you love Blake and Will bits from the past years, you will not want to miss this event.
SPN: I’ve heard rumors about those Blake and Will videos.
BL: All of our skits are just like two bros messing around like they’re back in college. Every time that Will and I are near each other, we’re going to be poking fun at each other. Our goal is to lighten the mood and show that you’re never alone as a founder or an entrepreneur. You’re more than a company, you’re a person with friends and supporters.
WC: Hopefully they’re all positive reviews. If not, Blake and I only spent 24 hours trying to come up with it so don’t be too hard on us. The fun thing is we get to act like ourselves around each other
SPN: I’ve heard from Joni that once you join the Pipeline family, you never leave. Is that true?
BL: That is a fact. It is a family. The first year of Pipeline as a fellow, you earn your stripes learning from those who have come before you, and you’re inspired to want to add value to those that will come after you. Once you’re a part of it, you never want to leave. And that’s not just for the entrepreneurs. My girlfriend and parents want to go every year. Will wants to come every year now because he feels like he’s a part of the family. Just one evening inside the Innovators and you’ll want to come back.
WC: I think I’m a prime example of that and I’m not even one of the “Innovators.” I like to think of myself as an adopted child, or that friend that never leaves.