U of M Big data lab SOBACO on-boards Thrivent Financial


Thrivent-SOBACO Social Media and Business Analytics Collaborative (SOBACO) launched inside the University of Minnesota two years ago has signed Thrivent Financial as its first charter member.

Through this relationship, the 2.4m member financial services org for Christians gains unique access to expertise in social technologies and data analytics within the University.

“Partnering with the University of Minnesota will help us leverage cutting-edge research in data science and test new ideas to make strategic use of data and social media,” says Bill McKinney, vice president of talent and long term development at Thrivent.

For the cost of what a single employee might be, corporate charter members make a soft commitment of three years at either maroon ($25k/yr) or gold ($50k/yr) levels. Their return includes “door openings” with student and academic thought leaders, roundtable discussions and specialized research services.

SOBACO also collaborates with startups and smaller firms on more of an ‘in kind’ manner. “The ability for us to acquire and experiment with new data is always of value to us,” SOBACO’s Academic Co director Ravi Bapna explains. “That’s what we look for with emerging companies. ”

As part of the bigger strategic angle, Carlson School of Management launched a MS program in business analytics with a cohort of ~30 students enrolled in the first-ever program.   “There’s no shortage of demand for people with these skills.”

“The most important requirement is for companies to have an interest in social media and big data analytics.  They would need to see the value in collaborating with a research university and really an open mind to new thinking.”

“Think of us as a data concierge,” Bapna concludes, adding “There’s a lot of companies in this area that need to get up to speed with their data strategy.”


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