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Sherri Richards, Published March 09 2014

Connecting the connectors: Merged organizations expand efforts into Fargo

FARGO – Pollen is a digital-only network of cross-sector civic-minded connectors in the Twin Cities. OTA is a Sioux Falls, S.D.-based organization that seeks to connect creative community builders through in-person events.

Both operated only in their respective geographic areas. But with encouragement and up to $3 million from the Bush Foundation, the two groups have merged, and are expanding their goal of personal and professional growth across the tri-state region, including Fargo.

OTA-Pollen brought its We Must Be Bold tour to Fargo last month, bringing about 40 of these civic-minded community leaders together at an event at Fargo Brewing Company.

A feature on the Plains Art Museum is now on Pollen’s website.

And OTA (named after the shared ending of its targeted region: North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota) is bringing its large-scale conference to Fargo on Sept. 12.

“Fargo gets to start with a fully functioning, fully realized dream of both those things walking hand-in-hand,” said Hugh Weber, co-CEO of OTA-Pollen. “From Day 1, they start with the full benefits of those two organizations.”

Admittedly vague, the goal of both organizations has been to connect “isolated” leaders.

“We operate in these silos. We know who the resources are in our own network. It can be hard to break out of our silos,” said Jamie Millard, co-CEO of OTA-Pollen.

“And it will really take a physical and digital network to do that,” said Meghan Murphy, co-CEO.

Weber, Millard and Murphy all said their goal isn’t to duplicate anything in Fargo, but to complement existing networking and community building efforts.

Weber said OTA conferences aren’t so much about the 10 to 12 speakers on stage. “Really, those speakers are bait for the people.”

Once connected, the audience members are inspired to do amazing things, he said.

Pollen is able to share resources, career updates and job openings, providing action to that inspiration, Millard and Murphy said.

Another avenue the organization uses to connect and inspire is digital storytelling, highlighting innovative people across the region.

With the Bush Foundation funding, OTA-Pollen will hire local freelancers to create that content.

“The overriding narrative of the region is ‘not much happens here,’ and that’s completely false,” Weber said. “What we need to do to change that is to tell the stories.”

Weber, Millard and Murphy said they have no agenda for what meaningful change results from OTA-Pollen telling Fargo’s stories or holding events here.

“We just want to be the spark or catalyst to that change,” Millard said.

Kirsten Jensen, director of digital marketing at Onsharp, a technology solutions company in Fargo, has attended previous OTA event, and will likely attend both the April 4 Sioux Falls and Sept. 12 Fargo conferences.

Jensen learned about Pollen during the February tour stop in Fargo.

She was struck by how Millard was already introducing and connecting people from Fargo who didn’t know each other.

“I just felt a really nice sense of welcoming. It felt different than other networking opportunities for some reason,” Jensen said.

Readers can reach Forum Business Editor

Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556