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When Your World is on Fire

Last year, a little over 3 months ago, Harvest Summit was scheduled for Friday, October 20th, 2017. We were sold out. We had an exciting mix of amazing speakers, innovation partners and senior leaders flying in.

On Monday, October 9th, 11 days before Harvest Summit, everything changed. Our world was literally on fire.

That morning, and for days after, Lake, Napa and Sonoma Counties suffered the most devastating wildfire in California’s history. Thousands of people lost everything. The death toll rose and the wildfires are now the costliest natural disaster in the nation’s history. Not the type of history we ever wanted to make.

Fear, shock, desperation and panic are just a few of the emotions that coursed through my system during the wee hours of that fateful morning. I spent from 3 am until mid-day frantically searching for my 89-year-old grandmother. After racing to three different evacuation centers, with spotty cell service and continuously trying to load facebook for updates, I heard a maintenance man was able to get back up to her facility. Gulping down the fear of losing a loved one mixed with adrenaline, I was able to obtain his cell number and sent him a text asking if her building was still standing and to check her unit. I never heard from him.

An hour later, he pulled up to the evacuation center I refused to leave and his van door opened. There she was. He found her. She was alive. One of those moments you never forget.

Under the veil of the worst air quality in the state’s history, the reality of what had happened, and what continued to be a threat, began to sink in. As the fires raged on, the urgency of what to do about Harvest Summit, less than a week away, was almost unbearable given the circumstances. My husband and I were now hosting my grandmother, a displaced elderly couple, my brother and sister-in-law’s 3 girls (who were out fighting the raging blaze—he’s a firefighter; she’s an EMT), their dogs and of course our 3 boys, while facing a mountain of uncertainty. Like so many others, we were told to be ready to evacuate.

Up in Smoke

A year of curation, carefully crafted programming, detailed planning and the possibility of what may come from the conversations and relationships formed at Harvest Summit 2017, was also in jeopardy of going up in smoke.

As I watched the ridge lines continue to burn, the decision to quickly reschedule became clear. So many businesses, schools, friends, displaced workers and families in Sonoma County were going to need our help and support. Now was the time to come together and take action.

We did what entrepreneurs around the world do everyday… we hustled. Our vendors, partners, speakers and delegates rose to the occasion. All we had to do was ask.

We Made It

We held Harvest Summit 2017 on Friday, November 10.

In doing so, we made a difference. We donated proceeds to the North Bay Fire Relief Fund, we’re distributing hundreds of Yoobi backpacks and school supplies to children who are just now returning to school sites (my son’s first day back on his high school campus impacted by the fire was only days ago), we’re distributing Bahco tools to vineyard crews affected and we collected hundreds of gift cards to distribute to families in need.

The Road Ahead

Now, more than ever, the art of the long view rings true. It will take time for parts of this community to rebuild, rebound and rejuvenate. It will take leadership at the federal, state, county, city and neighborhood level. It will require ingenuity, breaking down bureaucratic barriers, reinventing systems, fast tracking building efficiencies, better technology, the list goes on. It’s a case study in innovation—rethinking what’s possible.

Just like the rest of the world’s challenges and problems, it will take innovators, risk takers, change makers, rule breakers and thinkers of all types to make a difference, to take action.

As Greg Simon, president of the Biden Cancer Institute, remarked last year at Harvest Summit, “Innovation is not just thinking big, it’s actually doing something big.”

That is what makes Harvest Summit special. When you get the right people together magic happens. It’s people who drive innovation and the shared experience of Harvest Summit fosters the fundamental building blocks of innovation—real conversations, ideation space and meaningful collaboration.

The Result

Deals and collaborations continue to be hatched. Here are just a few of the collaborations we’ve heard are in the works:

  • Reclaiming and redistributing food at the Super Bowl expanded due to conversations that began at HS16.
  • A fortune 500 corporation is considering a foundation’s model for mentoring entrepreneurs.
  • A director, producer and funding source that met at HS17 are considering working together on a documentary on elephant poaching in Africa.
  • Multiple delegates were inspired and have come together to spin out a climate focused summit.
  • A construction company invested in VR after participating in the HS16 session.
  • A school supply company formed new partnerships after attending.

What happens at Harvest Summit does not stay at Harvest Summit

Because the right level of cross-industry leaders are together, the possibility to amplify outcomes exists—the ripple effect expands.

We continue to be in awe of this community and expect another oversubscribed summit. Why? Leaders are looking for opportunities to explore emerging technologies, cultural shifts and environmental challenges and do so in a relaxed setting while gaining new perspectives, intimate networking with their peers in different industries and connect in depth, not just width.

Don’t take our word for it. Here is a small sample of the feedback from last year’s delegates.

“I had the opportunity to meet with industry leaders from sectors I wouldn’t have imagined interacting with before. The opportunity for new partnerships and building strategic relationships is incredibly high,”
Gabrielle Almon Founder, Rise of the Bulls

“It was truly one of the highlights of my year. I made many connections at the event that I believe will generate a significant number of opportunities to create impact,”
Justin Wolf Chief Giving Officer, Yoobi

“One of the most inspiring events I have ever attended,”
Chris Petrovic SVP and Head of Corporate Strategy & Development, Zynga

“Really well done! I was proud to be part of it!”
Chris Flink Executive Director, Exploratorium, Stanford Faculty and IDEO Fellow & Partner Emeritus

Mark Your Calendar

Onward. Reserve your seat at the table for this year’s Innovation Field Trip.

I look forward to seeing you at our prelude Thursday evening October 18 and our third annual flagship summit on Friday, October 19.

Stay tuned for additional pop up experiences throughout the year.

Expect us to pack Harvest Summit with insightful, inspiring talks and exclusive access to the most innovative thinkers and doers—all with a relentless focus to encourage you to rethink what’s possible. From what’s next, what’s working, what’s not and what’s important, we want to know what’s on your innovation agenda. You are part of the conversation.

Cheers to an Innovation Field Trip like no other.


In recounting the wake of the wildfire, I couldn’t bring myself to say we “spark” and “ignite” innovation at Harvest Summit. In the best, and worst, of circumstances.

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