When entrepreneur and pharmacist Blair Thielemier first came up with the idea for the Elevate Pharmacy Virtual Summit, she was looking to put on an event she, herself, would attend.
It was 2017, and Blair was practicing as a full-time consultant pharmacist, also in the process of building her membership business, The Pharmapreneur Academy. Her daughter was three, and she was pregnant with her second child.
“Traveling to a pharmacy conference in person was a big ask,” she recalls with a laugh.
Blair had, however, attended a few virtual summits in other industries, mainly entrepreneurship, speaking, and personal finance. That experience combined with the recognition that pharmacy conferences were lacking innovation led to her putting together her own virtual event.
“Most of the pharmacy conferences have an academic spin to them,” she said. “It’s pharmacists speaking pharmacy language to other pharmacists. None were really focused on business, entrepreneurship, marketing, or branding.”
Blair saw a void she could fill.
Already seen as an innovative thinker in pharmacy, Blair had been attending in-person conferences herself as a speaker, where she met other leaders in the industry like Amina Abubakar, Travis Wolf, and Randy McDonough.
“I thought about an event where I could interview my role models and ask them questions I knew an audience would want to ask,” she said. “but then I took it one step further.
“What if those attending the conference didn’t have to pay for travel? What if they could listen to these innovators from their living room or their home office … in their pajamas?”
Making History with the Elevate Pharmacy Virtual Summit
In 2017, Zoom wasn’t the mainstream tool it is today.
In fact, Blair had a difficult time explaining her virtual event format to her interview subjects.
“Some of them were familiar with podcasting, but they weren’t so sure about being on video,” she said with a laugh. “When they did agree, they’d ask, ‘When are you coming here to do the interview?’ I would have to tell them I wasn’t – that I would be in Arkansas and that we would meet on this platform called Zoom. At the time, it was a huge learning curve.”
A regular listener of business and entrepreneurial podcasts, Blair herself was familiar with the online business world and engaging on Zoom. In fact, it was through one of those podcasts that she learned of a course called Virtual Summit Mastery.
“It was an interview with Naveed Moazzezz,” she said. “He was offering scholarships for this course, so I messaged him, shot a video, and applied.”
Blair was granted a scholarship.
“It was a few weeks after I heard the interview that it just hit me like a bolt of lightning,” she said.
“‘You need to do a virtual summit for pharmacists.’”
The first-ever Elevate Pharmacy Virtual Summit was centered around interviews with industry leaders. Blair interviewed subjects over Zoom, edited them herself, and released them five at a time over a five-day span.
At the time, Blair wasn’t selling anything through the event. Her goal was simply to share the insights of thought leaders in the industry to show attendees that getting to a place of success takes time, hard work, and failures.
“So often, we don’t know what went into getting to that success,” she said. “I wanted to show that, behind every success story, there are a lot of challenges to overcome.”
The Evolution of an Idea
The first Elevate Pharmacy Virtual Summit received glowing feedback. Attendees proudly told Blair they watched the entire conference in their pajamas, wishing more pharmacy conferences were like hers.
“I had even promoted in some emails to ‘sign up, but don’t get dressed,’” she said. “People would reply and ask, ‘What do you mean, “No travel required?”’”
As it turns out, Blair was onto something.
Following that first successful event, she was approached by the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) Innovation Center, which is responsible for supporting innovative ideas happening in pharmacy.
“They came to me and asked if I wanted to partner, which we did in 2018 and 2019,” said Blair.
“Through that partnership, we were able to not only reach pharmacists in the United States but pharmacists all over the world.
“I would look at the people that registered and they would be from the UK, South Africa, Ethiopia, Brazil, which wasn’t something I could have ever imagined.”
Blair continued her interview-style summit, also able to offer CE credit to the pharmacists who attended. The event was a continued success, but — as Blair grew in business — she felt a nudge to use her own voice more.
Up until that time, she had been an interviewer, using the event to gather insight from other professionals in the industry.
In 2020, however, she began teaching what she called Sunset Summary Sessions.
“I finally felt confident enough to say, ‘this is my experience and my expertise, and here is what I would do in that situation,’” she recalls.
“I probably could have made that transition sooner than I did, but listening to others for three years also gave me a really good foundation for the climate of pharmacy and for understanding what was possible; how entrepreneurs can make things work, even through challenges.”
A True Entrepreneur
The year 2020 certainly presented challenges as COVID-19 swept through the United States and the world. Considered essential workers during the pandemic, pharmacists were greatly affected both personally and professionally.
With a significant following on LinkedIn and the industry as a whole, Blair took the opportunity to amplify her voice as a thought leader in both her industry and as an entrepreneur.
She wrote on LinkedIn in April 2020, “In 2020, more than 1,600 pharmacists registered, engaged, and gave great feedback about how valuable (the Elevate Pharmacy Virtual Summit has) been for them. This year’s virtual conference also turned out to be my most profitable year, generating four times my initial investment.
How can we generate profit through a free event?
“There is an art to it, and it’s something more pharmacists and organizations can take advantage of, especially with recent cancellations of most in-person events during the COVID-19 pandemic. In-person events are gone for the foreseeable future and online – or virtual – events are the way to go.”
Three years ahead of the virtual event game, Blair was set up for success as many other businesses struggled to transition to an online-only world. In fact, her summit was one of the only pharmacy conferences that took place in 2020.
“After the pandemic hit, others in pharmacy started to realize, ‘this virtual conference thing isn’t a bad idea,’” Blair recalls. “I actually helped other pharmacy companies put together their own virtual summits, becoming a producer of virtual events for other entities.”
It was a significant time of growth for Blair, leading her to completely restructure the way she offered the event in 2021.
Instead of on-demand interviews and teaching, Blair transitioned Elevate to a two-day, live workshop-style event that includes storytelling and Q&A sessions.
The new format allows attendees to seek answers about starting their own businesses while others learn from the exchange.
“We give our attendees prompts to think through during the event,” she said. “We want them to think of their own dream business. If they were to create it, what would it be?”
“And after the event, it really happens!”
Turning Ideas Into Reality
What began as a way to interview her role models and inform the pharmacy industry has transitioned into a way for Blair to help her fellow pharmacists make their dreams come true.
Blair recalls one attendee, Julie, who attended the October 2021 virtual summit.
“Her initial question was casual,” said Blair. “She said, ‘I want to work with doctors who see kids with Cystic Fibrosis.’
“But I kept digging, asking her why she wanted to do that. From there, her story opened up and, by the time she was done, half the room was in tears.”
A significant part of that pharmacist’s story was helping other families recognize the options they have in modern and holistic medicine.
“She shared why she made the choices she did,” said Blair. “What began as her saying, ‘I have an idea of what I want to do’ ended with a story that deserves its own book.
“It’s a perfect example of how a Q&A can turn into a teaching moment for not just the person asking the question, but for everyone attending the event.”
Many who have attended Blair’s virtual summit have gone on to start their own successful consulting businesses, fueled by passion for a particular area of practice.
“We actually refer to the summit as a business incubator now,” said Blair. “Not like a Shark Tank-style where we rip apart your idea, but a safe space to brainstorm and have some guidance.
“We lead people down one track or another or dig into a particular idea a little more. It’s been gratifying to see how it’s unfolded.”
Transformation is Possible
Now in its sixth year, the Elevate Pharmacy Virtual Summit has evolved from Blair’s initial idea.
In many ways, she has evolved right along with it.
As a young entrepreneur, Blair’s early summits featured the thoughts and expertise of others. She would ask the questions, often playing devil’s advocate with inquiries like, “A lot of pharmacists say there’s a turf war happening between physicians and pharmacists. Has that been your experience?”
She wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo, building a following as a thought leader willing to talk about a need for change in the industry.
As her confidence grew, so did her impact. Blair now shares her own business insight, selling five-figure mastermind packages to the pharmacy entrepreneurs serious about taking their businesses to the next level.
“So many pharmacists can really help people as consultants, but they’ve never thought about how they can turn what they know into a business,” said Blair.
“They haven’t considered which area they want to focus on: gut health, mental health, diabetes, cystic fibrosis – whatever’s calling to them.
“The transformation is in the belief that you can change your life and your career. You can overcome your limiting beliefs. Once you recognize your value and what you know can come from a place of confidence, you can have a significant impact.”
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