To be fair, my expectations were low heading into the growth forum, believing it would be just another marketing driven, workshop packed conference. Yet to my surprise, as soon as I set foot in this beautiful desert oasis, my schedule was filled with insightful, business-objective driven forums and workshops led by industry heavyweights as well as refreshing conference-wide Q&A sessions with some of today’s most well-known thought leaders and entrepreneurs – from the likes of Sir Richard Branson to William Clay Ford Jr. It was also great to immerse myself in an environment where attendees rub elbows with slightly less God-like entrepreneurs such as Guy Laliberté (founder and CEO of Cirque du Soleil) and Tom Adams (CEO of Rosetta Stone).
While listening to the top echelon of today’s most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders was inspiring, the real gems of the forum for me were having lunch meetings, drinks, and impromptu hallway chit chats with like-minded 2010 entrepreneur winners. One memorable story from chatting with Joe Ratterman of BATS Exchange is what private electronic exchange boards do to change the game in today’s financial markets. For someone who had spent years in the financial industry dabbling in designing and implementing real-time global trading systems, I received a great refresher update on today’s state of the art. Lastly, but certainly the most valuable benefit of the forum by far, is the ability for the attendees to request quick, half-hour “speed-dating” network meetings with other C-level executives. I really enjoyed those high-energy senior meetings and found them tremendously valuable in helping extend and expand joint business ventures. My only regret was going to the 2010 event by myself instead of bring my executive team for a more full-immersion–type business networking experience.
For four consecutive days, the Strategic Growth Forum kept me constantly engaged from 6:30 a.m. to midnight learning and networking today’s top entrepreneurs. To top the event off, watching fireworks and live band performances in the evenings as well as seeing Jay Leno deliver his punch lines at the final awards ceremony was a nice touch. Of course, sitting next to the famed Larry Silverstein at the awards ceremony was also pretty cool.
So for those entrepreneurs who ever wondered about the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurship program and its benefits, my advice is try to get in … and try again if you don’t win. It’s definitely an endeavor well worth your time and efforts. I, like many previous entrepreneur of the year winners, am personally looking forward to attending the annual event for years to come!