Samantha Grace

Senior Product Manager

Virtual Platform Brings Annual Innovation Event to Life During COVID-19

Topics: Cream City Labs.

As the manager of Cream City Labs, Northwestern Mutual’s innovation lab, I help plan a variety of events throughout the year to engage leaders, employees and the community. One of our marquee events is an annual Innovation Fair, which provides opportunities for employees across the company to showcase their innovative ideas and share the stories of how they're making things happen. It’s a great way to hear directly from the people developing innovative solutions that drive value for our business.

Innovation Fair is typically held in the event space within Cream City Labs, with each project team stationed at a booth to showcase their initiative and be available to answer questions. Of course, that wouldn’t be possible this year due to the pandemic, so I gathered up our planning team and asked: “How can we do this in a virtual way that is still informative and fun?”

An innovative approach to Innovation Fair

In-person events have a dynamic energy that can be hard to replicate. As we planned our virtual format, we looked to integrate some of today's best ideas, tools and technologies to help keep that energetic vibe alive. Interactivity was key, with online options to foster engagement and provide opportunities for two-way, live conversation.

Working with a team of experts in design and UX, engineering, project management and communications, we built a virtual Innovation Fair platform with ten project "booths" (website pages) that included multiple ways to engage – brief overview videos to tell the story of each project in a unique way, “office hours” where attendees could drop in to ask questions or explore an initiative more in-depth, and dedicated Slack channels for those who preferred to connect off-camera.

Expanding our reach and future competencies

More than 700 people participated in the week-long virtual Innovation Fair, exceeding our goal to match the number of attendees from our last in-person event. I’m so impressed with how quickly our team was able to come together to build something that not only looked great, but also helped showcase some of our most exciting initiatives from the year.

Best of all, our approach to bringing the booths online will improve the attendee experience for years to come. While nobody knows what the future holds, we now have a virtual platform that can enhance in-person events by leveraging interactive online tools and features. This hybrid model can offer the best of both worlds — live and online — to expand our scope and continue to give these amazing projects the creative, compelling presentation they deserve.

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