About Catalyst University

Ten years ago, Southwest Michigan First CEO Ron Kitchens had a unique idea: What if his team shook up the landscape of leadership in Southwest Michigan by creating a day filled with amazing speakers and experiences right here in Kalamazoo?

Entire teams could enjoy the day together rather than sending one or two team members off to a conference somewhere else only to report back a fraction of what they learned.

Just over 350 showed up for the very first Catalyst University back on January 20, 2011. That year, everyone left talking about their “Why”—why they wake up and do what they do every day. Twice as many came the next year. And, now ten years later, the rest is history!

Over the years, Catalyst University has introduced Southwest Michigan to many thought leaders and trail-blazers. Leaders like Jon Acuff, Patrick Lencioni, Bob Goff, Dr. Tererai Trent and more have come as headliners, but left as friends. Others like Simon Sinek, Inky Johnson, Jess Ekstrom, Hannah Brencher and Wes Moore have ignited a spirit of change and empowered leaders to take their personal, corporate and community destiny to new heights.

This year, Catalyst University will be no different. We’ve thoughtfully put together and curated a diverse speaker lineup—with you in mind—that will push you to think, question your routine, and make you laugh (and cry). Yes, there will be opportunities to catch up with old acquaintances and make memories with new ones. And, who knows? You might be in for a surprise or two—think flying acrobats, soaring paper airplanes, air guitar and dancing Gangham Style along with your fellow attendees. But, since we’ve already done those activities with you, we promise something new…and unique!

So, buckle up and get ready for the tenth anniversary of Catalyst University!

A Yearbook of Our Past Speakers