Visa Issues Force Business Festival to Develop Plan B

Author: David McMillin       

Organizers of the Fifteen Seconds Festival faced unforeseen issues with U.S. immigration officials, but they aren’t letting those challenges cancel their first-ever event in Detroit next week.

“We need to reschedule” isn’t an ideal message to share with attendees who have registered for a conference, but for the organizers of Fifteen Seconds, it was an inescapable introduction for a note one month prior to the event’s first-ever program in the U.S. The reason? One of the most important members of the company’s team couldn’t come to the country.

“We faced unforeseeable issues regarding the L1A visa our company’s founder and managing partner applied for,” the announcement read. “Although we have invested a significant amount of time and effort to fulfill all requirements, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has not approved the visa yet but again requested additional evidence. As a result, our company’s founder and managing partner Stefan Stücklschweiger is not allowed to enter the United States pending further notice which makes it impossible for us to execute the final event preparations for Fifteen Seconds USA at this scale.”

The annual event has enjoyed impressive growth in Europe over the past five years and built an audience of approximately 5,000 attendees who crave the organizers’ unorthodox approach to content and engagement. Organizers thought that 2018 was the right time for their first-ever program in the U.S. Initially scheduled for Sept. 20–21 at the Cobo Center in Detroit, the inaugural program featured more than 80 speakers from organizations like Starbucks, IBM, GE, and SAP.

Fifteen Seconds will still launch in the U.S. in 2018, but its footprint will be considerably smaller. Instead of a two-day program, organizers will host a three-hour event at The Garden Theater in Detroit on Sept. 20. While working through visa issues and rescheduling the program was not ideal, Nino Groß, director of communications at Fifteen Seconds, told PCMA that the organizing team was improvising. “As soon as we learned that the ongoing visa process would take way longer than expected, we focused all efforts on making the best of the situation,” Groß said. “Everything else would have been a waste of energy. That’s why we decided to host an exclusive networking event where our founder’s presence is not necessarily needed instead of the big conference.”

The event will feature a diverse cast of perspectives on stage — a Buddhist monk, a Stanford neuroscience professor, and a marketing coordinator are among the speakers — that align with Fifteen Seconds’ vision of “a business conference, done differently.” Groß said that the condensed program will play a role in spreading the word about the full 2019 event. “We can now use this event perfectly for community building in and around Detroit and are very much looking forward to meeting our first USA attendees,” Groß said.

And how did those attendees receive the news of the alternative program? Quite well, actually. “The reactions surprised us,” Groß said. “Our USA attendees seem to be pretty easy-going. Astonishingly, the tone was more of a ‘We feel sorry for you guys’ than anything else.”

Those kind responses will be rewarded when the official program takes place in 2019. While Groß said that details are still being finalized (and visa issues being resolved), one detail is confirmed: Each attendee who purchased a ticket for the 2018 program will receive one complimentary ticket to bring a colleague or a friend next year.

Stay tuned to and the November issue of Convene for an in-depth look at insights from Fifteen Seconds’ plan B. I’ll be in Detroit this week for the experience. For now, check out how the event’s European engagement strategy challenges the status quo.

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