When Virgin Companies founder Sir Richard Branson rockets into RVA Downtown at The Richmond Convention Center on September 9th for the innovation extravaganza #DSRPT11 (Disrupt 2011) , attendees will not only have a chance to rub elbows with the polymathic business mogul and philanthropist, they will also have an opportunity to discover other national and regional creative thinkers who have harnessed new ideas in commerce, culture and community

Our goal is to showcase innovation and disruptive ideas that have had a positive impact on society. We have a world-class set of speakers who have revolutionized business, offered new perspectives, and changed how we approach certain issues,” explains Alice Gentry-Lingerfelt, Executive Director for Richmond Unite.

With a tagline of “Innovate. Interact. Evolve.” the conference is serving the dual purpose of promoting the region’s profile as a center of creativity as well as generate funds for area social-services organizations through Richmond Unite-a non-profit organization that seeks to generate income for existing programs that support the region’s at-risk youth.

“In addition to raising money for youth charities in Richmond, a key component of the Richmond Unite project is to shine the spotlight on this great region,” says Gentry-Lingerfelt, who has worked either professionally or as a volunteer for many RVA non-profit organizations, including Leukemia Lymphoma Society, Habitat for Humanity, and the Richmond Choral Society. “We felt it was important to showcase local innovators and leaders, which highlights the Richmond area’s dynamism and underscores that Richmond is an innovative and creative city. We also wanted to create a worthwhile and fun environment, and these speakers will certainly do just that!”

Speaker Line Up
Richmond-based innovators as diverse as brother entrepreneurs Jeff and Joey Anderson, whose Bio Taxi is a fully sustainable, green, and professional taxi service; VCU Brandcenter founding board member Kelly O’Keefe, Chairman of O’Keefe Brands and a national speaker on branding and marketing trends; Andy Stefanovich, Chief Curator and Provocateur at Prophet, a strategic brand and marketing consultancy; and Anne Lynam Goddard, president and CEO of ChildFund International, will complement a line-up of nationally-known social media, creativity and motivation celebs including “Chicken Soup” series co-author Mark Victor Hansen and David Karp, cofounder of Tumblr.

Keynote Star
Then, of course, there is the draw of having Branson in the region for 24 hours. Launching Virgin as a mail order record retailer in 1970 that later evolved into the legendary recording label, Branson has nurtured his Virgin Group empire to about 200 companies in 30 countries-in industries as diverse as leisure, broadband, travel, tourism, mobile technology, TV, radio, music festivals, finance and health. Most recently, Branson has been making headlines with Virgin Galactic, his venture with space-flight tourism.

In 2009, Richmond Unite cofounders Carroll Hurst (a founding partner of Keiter, Stephens, Hurst, Gary & Shreaves and a Director of Keiter Stephens Advisors) and Patrick Hull (a businessman and investor with ventures in technology, entertainment, private jets, real estate, restaurants and innovations in transportation) were inspired by the idea of surrounding a visit from Branson-who happens to be a friend of Hull’s-with an event that would reflect Branson’s Midas touch of embracing innovation and his passion for evolving the way that “governments, businesses and the social sector work together-driving business as a force for good,” as promoted through his efforts with Virgin Unite.

Once Branson embraced the idea, Richmond Unite began reaching out to the community for support. “Patrick [Hull] had been a client of mine,” says TECHEAD CEO Phil Conein who is also a Richmond Unite Director. “He knew that Casey Quinlan and I were having great success with our LinkedIn Live Richmond (LILRVA) networking events. He wanted to tap into the local social media community.”

Attracting Talent
In many aspects, Conein himself is the type of individual the conference seeks to highlight as well as support by attracting creative talent to the region.

Twenty-three years ago, he founded TECHEAD with his partner and wife, Philise Conein. Using their wedding money as working capital, they grew their creative-talent and information-technology staffing services out of their one-bedroom apartment into an 8,000 s.f. building in the heart of Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom.

As a Downtown business that traffics knowledge-based talent, TECHEAD’s future relies heavily on retaining the services of smart, culturally-motivated and community-engaged individuals.

Conein and Quinlan, who owns Mighty Casey Media LLC, had started the meet-ups as an offshoot of RichTech, a technology networking organization. They expanded their event to include all RVA professionals who seek to network. Their summer meet-up held at Legends Brewery had over 200 LinkedIn members. “This LILRVA will be much larger-scale and include a day-long branding opportunity in the Village,” Quinlan explains of the 4:00-5:30p.m. event held for -the conference attendees after main general session of speakers at #DSRPT11.

The Village luncheon will showcase Benefit Corporations-a relatively new concept that holds businesses to accountable standards ranging from workplace diversity to carbon neutrality, recycling, waste reduction, and donating a portion of profits to good causes-and highlight Virginia’s new law establishing them. The venue will also provide displays for event sponsors and a podium for local disruptive thinkers who will participate as speakers.

“Village luncheon attendees will be able to speak with each B-Corp that is represented at the conference and learn more about their organization,” Gentry-Lingerfelt says. “Additionally, there will be a few sponsor exhibits and a public soapbox-a place where attendees will have about 8 minutes to share their own thought-changing experiences.”

Party Like a Rock Mogul
As for opportunities to fraternize with Sir Richard Branson, the event will host an intimate gathering of about 50 people with his Lordship and other guest celebrities for a private, multicourse dinner and conversation at the VMFA. Following that, a “Richard Rocks Richmond” after party featuring a cabaret-style celebration will be hosted at the museum for a fun, interactive evening of multiple bands and other entertainment.

“The after-party will be unlike any fundraisers the Richmond area has seen before,” Gentry-Lingerfelt says. “Sir Richard will stop by and we’ll have a number of special and surprise guests.”

“This is just the first of many more to come,” Conein explains of Richmond Unite’s conference. Citing SXSW, he envisions many ways that the conference could evolve. “I could see this easily branching out to emphasize our great music community [see sidebar on RVA?Music Fest ] or perhaps one year highlight our dynamic health and science industries and local innovation,” he says. “There are just so many cool things that the region has to offer when it comes to creativity.”

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