How to make a health care startup entanglement extravaganza


MPR host Kerri Miller moderated a “reverse pitch” to startups, featuring two CIOs: Criss Ross of Mayo Clinic and John Santelli of Optum.

Just 90 seconds to pitch their idea. That’s all most of the startup companies had. A dozen lucky companies were selected to present a six-minute pitch. And many others were invited to sit down in private one-to-one sessions.

Who was listening? Investors and executives from some of the top names in health care, including Optum, Mayo Clinic, Boston Scientific, UnitedHealthcare, 3M and more.

Altogether, more than 80 health care and med-tech startups got to share their stories and pitch their ideas at the first ever Healthcare Startup and Enterprise Entanglement Extravaganza, hosted last month at Optum in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

The event was the brainchild of Dan Atkins, a co-founder of MinneAnalytics and an Optum VP. About 10 years ago he helped a small user group transform their occasional get-togethers at a local library into a major events organization for data and analytics-minded folks.

Dan explains how it exploded in the beginning. “In 2012, the founder of Geek Squad did the keynote at our event, and 500 people showed up. Suddenly I was getting media requests, and sponsors were contacting me saying, ‘How can I get in front of these people?’” He joked, “The simple business model is to recruit really interesting speakers.”

At the core of MinneAnalytics is a professional organization in data science, analytics and emerging tech. And they produce conferences because that’s what their members benefit from. Events happen all year round. But what was so special about this event in October?

“If you’re sitting next to someone you already know, you’re violating the rules of the event.”
– Dan Atkins, co-founder of MinneAnalytics, and chief community entanglement officer at Optum

In the past, MinneAnalytics has done small startup showcases as a part of other events. But they had never produced a standalone conference just for startups. So with the support of the CIO at Optum, Dan set up the largest gathering of health care startups and enterprise-sized investors ever assembled in Minnesota (a state known for its health care and med-tech companies). It turns out, there was a very good reason Dan titled this event an “Entanglement Extravaganza.”

In addition to the on-stage pitches and scheduled one-to-one meetings, there were also countless unplanned connections, chance encounters, and random discussions that led to meetings being set up in real time. The air was buzzing with serendipitous entanglement. Dan said more than once, “If you’re sitting next to someone you already know, you’re violating the rules of the event.” He was serious about getting people to talk to each other.


The day was filled with countless unplanned connections, random discussions, and impromptu meetings.

But the startups weren’t the only ones talking, and investors weren’t the only ones listening. During the morning, a panel of venture capitalists from Mayo Ventures, Lemhi Ventures, UHG Ventures and Capita3 took the stage for an hour to answer questions and share their insights.

Then in the afternoon, CIOs from Optum and Mayo Clinic delivered a “reverse pitch” to the startups in the audience, moderated by radio host Kerri Miller. The two executives shared their perspectives on startup companies, including what they hear too much of, what they want to hear, how to listen, and how to pitch to them. (In short: Solve the problems they’re trying to solve — don’t try to convince them they should be as enthralled in your product as you are. Also, fill the gaps for them — don’t tell them you’re going to revolutionize their entire enterprise IT platform.)

Dan is still waiting for some hard data to see how successful the day was for everyone involved and whether to do it again next year. For now, he’s encouraged by a few anecdotes he’s heard. For example, someone reached out to him a couple weeks afterward to tell him, “That was a great event!” Leaning in, they whispered they had landed a really big deal but couldn’t say anything more. So they just leaned back and smiled.

To learn more about MinneAnalytics, visit

And to learn more about technology innovation at Optum, visit


Dan Atkins croppedDan Atkins co-founded MinneAnalytics, the nation’s largest local data science community. He is also a VP and the chief community entanglement officer at Optum. Dan is a data geek and classically trained capitalist, spending 18 years as an independent analytics consultant. He officially crossed over and joined UnitedHealth Group in 2013 and now leads community entanglement in the data science, emerging tech, and startup spaces.



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