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Main Street Summit

Main Street Summit audience in Skylark Bookshop

This festival-like business conference offers diverse learning experiences for local professionals.

Many of us are familiar with the task of choosing which workshop or breakout session to attend at a business conference. But what about choosing your own “adventure?”

That’s the vernacular and edgy attitude behind the high-energy plans for the Main Street Summit, set for November 8 and 9 in Columbia. Organizers are billing the event as a “festival” for small to medium-size businesses, a target that includes businesses with fewer than 10 or up to 500 employees.

Seventy-eight speakers are already lined up to give attendees an impressive array of expertise, advice, and encouragement. The speaker roster is expected to reach or surpass 100.

“There will be a lot of sessions happening, similar to a film or music festival,” says organizer Clayton Dorge. “You pick and choose, hit the highlights on the main stage, choose the adventure of what topics are most pressing to you. It’s a large mixture of industry experts.”

Main Street Summit is produced by the same team that has put on the invitation-only Capital Camp for five years in Columbia. While that exclusive conference is geared more toward investors, Main Street Summit is a sort of all-comers conference specifically focused on small to medium-sized businesses. There are still sessions zeroed in on investing in or owning a business, but also sessions on recruiting and developing talent, sales and marketing, and industry-specific topics ranging from healthcare, media, aerospace, and finance to manufacturing, construction, oil and gas, retail, and technology.

A of range sessions in expertise levels from introductory to industry expert, featuring interviews, debates, and workshops will occur across more than 10 stages throughout Columbia.

“Obviously we’re big fans of Columbia and bringing people to our own backyard,” Dorge explains. “This event is built with business owners and operators in mind; people who are in the trenches every day, who know the ups and downs of running a business.”

Local shops, larger businesses, smaller businesses, and entrepreneurs will all find value in the event, says co-organizer Laurie Oberweather, a Kansas City native who came to Columbia to attend the University of Missouri in 2007. She wound up graduating from Columbia College and never left town.

“I’ve had so much help from the community,” she explains, noting that as many as 800 people are expected to attend. Dorge’s small team has partnered with local hotels for lodging.

The price of attendance ranges from $500 for a “classic” pass, to $1,500 for a “flagship” pass, and $5,000 for an “all-in” pass. Each pass level has its own perks and benefits, from access to The Atrium — which will be grand central and an exclusive gathering spot for the conference — to premium seating, downtown lodging, and 24/7 concierge service.

If the cost prompts a double-take, Dorge is quick to point out that Main Street Summit is unlike any typical business conference. And instead of going to one or more conferences or sending employees or managers to multiple conferences, Main Street Summit is the one-stop conference to attend, he says, adding, “You don’t have to go to multiple conferences. They can just come down the street.”

Dorge continues, “It’s the perfect way to learn and spend your time with other business owners if you’re facing specific challenges, you want to level up, grow — this is going to be the best use of that time and money in terms of learning the most and having those conversations with others who are going through the same things.” Some of those attendees will be the award-winning authors, speakers, and business owners with connections to the U.S. and international business communities, and leaders who have thrived with “decision-making in high-pressure situations,” he adds. 

Dorge also points out the festival approach and expecting “a ton of fun” with evening events, local breweries, restaurants, and concert venues.

“We greatly respect and admire what True/False FIlm Fest has built here in Columbia,” he explains, noting that the organizing team has worked with the True/False founders to try and apply their approach “to create some version of that for the business world and business-related topics. We’re trying to lean into them as much as possible. We want to do the exact same thing.”

Dorge, a Mizzou graduate who was born and raised in Jefferson City, says there are still sponsorship opportunities for businesses or individuals who want to be part of Main Street Summit.

“If you have a company or service that would be valuable, we have the perfect platform to show that off,” he says.

Oberweather is also hopeful that companies and individuals who have shifted to remote or hybrid work environments will take advantage of the connection opportunities at the summit.

“There’s plenty for them to learn from,” she adds. “It’s really for the entire small business ecosystem. There will be something for everyone.” 

Speakers and presenters include: 

Wade Foster, founder and CEO, Zapier 

Tracy Britt Cool, co-founder, Kanbrick

Scott Harrison, founder, Charity: Water 

Jesse Pujji, founder, Gateway

Ian Cassel, founder, MicroCapClub

John Garrett, CEO, Community Impact

David Perell, founder, Write of Passage 

Brent Beshore, CEO and founder, Permanent Equity

John Fiorentino, inventor, Gravity Blanket

Jordan Strebeck, co-founder, Fortress Energy

Michael Curry, co-chairman, Apex Physics Partners

Mitchell Baldridge, owner, Baldridge Financial

Jesse Bodine, co-founder, Scout & Nimble

Trevor Rosenthal, MLB all-star pitcher

A brief overview of some sessions:

Investing 101
Healthcare opportunities

Investing 201
Creating an inbound funnel

Investing 301
Finding and reviewing managers

Operations 101
Growth and scaling the first billion

Operations 201
Starting a news organization from scratch

Operations 301
Deconstructing HoldCos

Communication 101
Powerful long-form writing

Management 301
Managing managers


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