David Batcheller, CEO of Appareo Systems, was sitting in a mildly interesting and exceedingly long conference when he recognized a call to action. The attendees – representatives from all the major engineering and tech schools in the area – spent much of the time discussing the relationship between industry and academia.

“Academia sees industry as disinterested, industry sees academia as slow and plodding,” Batcheller said. “Things just never really connect. There’s no vehicle for connection.”


Batcheller speaking at MSUM.

This, everyone could see and agree upon, he said. But Batcheller did not see anything being done to address the problem. And that wasn’t going to fly.

“I can’t sit through 7 hours to solve these problems without doing something about it. Someone’s gotta walk out and do something,” he said. “So I said, fine, I’ll do it.”

What Batcheller did was initiate the Speaker’s Bureau, a program that bridges the gap between industry and academia. He kicked off initial plans with help from Jim Gartin at the Economic Development Corporation, and is now partnering with Emerging Prairie where Annie Wood is at the helm of the project. The program will serve as a connecting vehicle to bring speakers who are active in the industry into university classrooms, making the process as smooth and red-tape-free as possible.


Betty Gronneberg from Intelligent InSites speaks at MSUM.

The idea is that if a college professor wants to bring a speaker in for a certain topic, they can reach out to the Speaker’s Bureau and they will promptly connect you with a speaker, and arrange a talk. Similarly, if someone in the industry has something cool they are working on that could make for an interesting talk, they can reach out to professors with the potential of presenting their work to students.

To start, they are focusing on tech fields; but ultimately, Batcheller said, “the scope is everything.”

Already there have been five talks by industry leaders at Intelligent InSites and Appareo Systems in classrooms at North Dakota State University and Minnesota State University – Moorhead.

Speakers_Bureau_2Batcheller himself spoke in one class, about the importance of soft skills (social/interpersonal skills) in the tech field. He found the entire process to be as smooth as he had envisioned for the program.

“I thought it was a tremendous amount of fun,” he said, remarking that, for being a college he had never been to before, it was the easiest entry into a classroom he’s ever had.

“I got into the class, Annie directed me where to park, I had access to Tasha on what I was doing from a speaking perspective… it made for a better talk, made for a better class,” he said.

The students had a positive experience as well. Batcheller said that after the talk one student was so interested in the company that they applied to a job right there.
What the two giant entities of academia and industry must embrace, Batcheller said, is that they both have value to offer each other. With a program like this, the hope is that those two values can be woven seamlessly together without stepping on each other’s feet.


“We have to try to blend the finger-on-pulse of industry and the stability of academia, to get some of the best of both,” he said.

“I’m optimistic that we’ve got the bones of something really really special. Now it’s just taking the team of energetic people and building it to take it from an idea, to a program, to something that draws hits from all around the country. For me that’s what good looks like, that’s what success looks like.”

To learn more about speaking opportunities with the Speaker’s Bureau, contact Annie Wood at anniefwood@gmail.com.

Photos courtesy of John Pederson.

Posted in

Marisa Jackels