In ancient Greece, a symposium was essentially a drinking party where invited guests would come together and partake in heightened intellectual conversations around a certain topic.  For instance, in Plato’s Symposium, he recounts an evening where seven people delivered speeches on their interpretation of the true meaning of love. While each speaker had a vastly different take on the subject, the spirit of the symposium was a complete success due to the exchanging of ideas and the acceptance of differing opinions.

I recently attended a modern day symposium in Cincinnati (the 2016 South Central Ohio Healthcare Supplier Diversity Symposium, to be exact). The purpose of this gathering was to increase diverse spending in the entire healthcare supply chain throughout the region. Over 350 CEO’s, senior executives, and top managers from all over the state were in attendance to participate in the conversation to achieve this goal.

Despite the absence of wine and alcohol, I thought the event was aptly named — there was even a portion of the day dedicated to watching five individuals deliver speeches of their healthcare business ventures (Plato would have been proud!).

Each presenter gave a two minute pitch about their company to a panel of judges. One presenter, Barbara Smith, spoke about her steel company, Journey Steel; by finding her niche and targeting smaller jobs that the larger steel companies wouldn’t go after, she grew her company into a multimillion dollar operation in less than a decade. Another presenter, Kezia Fitzgerald, spoke about her company CareAline. Her company offers central line wraps for diabetics and other patients that require constant infusions. Kezia was inspired by the fact that her daughter was going through chemotherapy for Neuroblastoma, and the medical tape the doctors were using irritated her skin.

After the speakers finished presenting, the judges asked them hard-hitting questions about their financials, future outlook, and other aspects of their business. Some speakers gave flawless, well thought out answers to the question asked. At other times, a question made the speaker stop and think, or realize something they had not thought of before. For example, Kezia was confronted about her unusually high Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), and was questioned whether or not she could get that number lower by outsourcing her manufacturing to China. Another presenter who specializes in medical translation services was asked what set her company apart from any other translation agency, and how she was determining her target market.

Though this series of pitches was just a portion of the event, it represented what a symposium is all about; open dialogue and the sharing of ideas to promote innovation. Despite the fact that the questions were difficult, the speakers came away with new ideas and different ways to move forward with their businesses. As the old saying goes: “no pain, no gain.”

Each speaker had to endure the questions of the judges as the audience looked on. However, in return they reaped the rewards of an open, collaborative environment and gained new perspectives and insights to improve their work moving forward.