Author: David McMillin
Health care is changing rapidly, but health-care conferences, for the most part, have stayed the same. The former CMO of General Mills is working to change that.
If you were to press rewind to 2016 to hear Mark Addicks discuss his future plans, you wouldn’t hear the conference industry crop up. At the time, Addicks — whose career includes managing a number of entrepreneurial efforts in Texas and Minnesota, winning a range of marketing and advertising accolades, and overseeing the development of Frosted Cheerios — had been serving as the chief marketing officer for General Mills Inc. for 12 years. “I am not a conference planner,” Addicks, who is now the CEO of 2023 Partners, told PCMA earlier this month. “If you asked me if I would be doing this two years ago, I never would have imagined the answer would be yes.”
When Addicks talks about “this,” he’s referring to MANOVA, the four-day global health and technology summit set to launch on Oct. 8 in Minneapolis. While Addicks has no background organizing a conference program and readily admits he “stumbled into this,” it’s clear that he is enjoying his new career turn. “I’m having these incredible conversations every day,” Addicks said. “I talked with someone yesterday who runs a start-up that is experimenting with cancer vaccines. We just went through the run of show, and we are building a program that can help contribute to improving the health of every person on this planet.”
When Addicks launched 2023 Partners, MANOVA wasn’t on the itinerary. The organization was initially formed as part of Minnesota’s bid to host the 2023 World’s Fair. While Minnesota was a finalist for the event, Buenos Aires emerged as the winner. “I was one of a number of business leaders involved in the bid, and our proposal was centered on global health,” Addicks said. “We were planning to have a global health conference leading up to the Fair. When we didn’t win, we all realized that we were really excited about the possibility of creating something that felt like a combination of [the World Economic Forum in] Davos and SXSW for the health-care industry.”
Making the Most of Medical Alley
Launching a conference with comparisons to two of the most-recognized names in events is ambitious, but MANOVA has a healthy (pun intended) head start in its audience-acquisition efforts. The region surrounding the Twin Cities is home to more than 1,000 health-care companies, including Medtronic, Boston Scientific, Abbott, United Health Group, Mayo Clinic, and a range of other established names in patient care. In fact, the region has earned the moniker of Medical Alley for the outsized role that medicine and health care play in its economy.
“We have an advantage of being able to deliver a well-attended event because we have a very localized audience that is deeply engaged with these issues,” Shaye Mandle, president and CEO of the Medical Alley Association, told PCMA. “Our expectations will be initial interest from the local community. The great news is that our local representatives are also global leaders in health care. So we can move the message out around the world more quickly.”
Mandle, whose organization is involved in the content curation and speaker development strategy for MANOVA, said that he hopes that initial success — organizers are expecting approximately 2,000 participants — will help contribute to the Medical Alley Association’s mission: to be the global epicenter of health innovation and care. “Five years from now,” Mandle said, “we want to see people coming from addresses not just outside of Minnesota but outside of the United States.”
“In a perfect world, 20,000–25,000 people from around the world will come here every year for MANOVA,” Addicks said. “They’ll make announcements of new products and partnerships and services like CES or an Apple product launch here.”
Minneapolis is no stranger to welcoming medical professionals. Each year, UBM MinnPack attracts more than 5,000 attendees, and Nathan Hermiston, senior director of destination sales at Meet Minneapolis, told PCMA that the city’s Super Bowl–hosting duties earlier this year have helped secure bigger wins in the medical space — such as the American College of Surgeons’ 2020 Annual Meeting and the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management’s 2023 Annual Meeting. Now, one of Hermiston’s main objectives is to provide an environment that can nurture MANOVA as it matures.
“As with any new event, there are a lot of unknowns,” Hermiston said. “We have to manage expectations with our hotel partners and make sure that they understand the larger vision that’s in place. We need to take a step back and educate them on the importance of being flexible enough to allow them to grow. It won’t be at a CES level in the next five years, but in 10 to 15 years, it definitely could.”
Taking the First Step
The long-term possibilities of MANOVA are exciting, but Addicks acknowledged that year one is the most important piece of the puzzle. “If we can get up and get going, I have no worries about year two,” Addicks said. “I just have to make year one great. I need to get the right people in the right seats so that we can show that the vision was correct.”
That vision includes something that may sound surprising to veterans of medical events. “We want to make health care sexy,” Addicks said. “That was one of our first guiding principles. Instead of making health care an issue that is confusing and complex and has a lot of angst around it, how do we flip that into the world that it really lives in, which is a world of unbelievable infinite possibilities?”
Let’s face it: Sexy is not the first word that comes to mind with medical conferences where programs typically feature sessions with mile-long names in a language designed for academic journals. Addicks’ vision, though, is not rooted in yesterday’s health-care space. He is focused on creating a space that embraces the consumerization of healthcare. (Looking for evidence of that consumerization shift? One of the biggest names in the consumer landscape, Walmart, is one of the summit’s main sponsors.)
“What we need is affordability, accessibility, and transparency for every patient,” Addicks said. “The common link between all of those is an incredible level of innovation and a relentless focus on the future. We can have a very different kind of event here and open the frame on what a health-care conference can look like.”
Interested in seeing inside that frame? Click here to learn more about MANOVA, and stay tuned to PCMA for on-site insights from the first edition of the summit this fall.