2021 Keynote Speakers
Founder and CEO Matt Higgins has always been determined to succeed on his own terms. He grew up in Queens, hawking flowers on street corners and working at McDonald’s to help put food on the table. On a mission to support his ailing mother and transcend poverty as fast as possible, he dropped out of high school at 16 to work full time, take his GED and enroll in college. Over the next decade, he would earn his law degree from Fordham at night and begin his career as the youngest press secretary in New York City history, managing the global press response during 9/11.
In 2012, Higgins teamed up with Miami Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross, the most prominent private developer in the U.S. and a serial entrepreneur. The partners launched RSE Ventures, a private investment firm headquartered in NYC that incubates and invests in businesses across sports and entertainment, food and lifestyle, media and marketing, and technology.
Higgins draws upon his upbringing when inspiring fellow entrepreneurs to defy convention and ignore the naysayers. His investment philosophy is simple: "We think that the journey matters. We are not investing in stocks; we are backing people - people with a mission to change the world in some way."
This philosophy has manifested through Higgins’ track record for spotting emerging talent and trends. A meeting at a bagel shop in 2009 ended with Higgins becoming Gary Vaynerchuk’s first client, which eventually led RSE to become the only outside investor in VaynerMedia. Together, RSE and Vaynerchuk launched Vayner/RSE, which has invested in transformative early-stage companies such as Coinbase, LOLA, June and Banza, and incubated RESY, which now seats over 1 million diners a week at the best restaurants around the world. Following early success as a brand-builder, in 2013 Higgins co-founded Derris, a leading brand strategy and communications agency whose clients include Warby Parker, Harry’s and Everlane.
As vice chairman of the Miami Dolphins, Higgins has focused on bringing major sports and entertainment events to South Florida, while building leading sports enterprises at RSE from the ground up. As soccer was finally hitting its stride in the U.S., RSE launched the International Champions Cup, now the largest privately owned soccer tournament, drawing the top international teams and over 140 million viewers. RSE also anticipated the emergence of recreational drone racing and backed the launch of the Drone Racing League, which has become the top drone racing circuit.
Most recently, RSE has built a portfolio of dynamic restaurant brands, partnering with David Chang's Momofuku, Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar, Nicholas Stone’s Bluestone Lane, and Michael Lastoria's &pizza, named one of Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies of 2018. Higgins also led RSE’s foray into cybersecurity with the acquisition of SkOUT, a leading cyber company for small and midsized businesses.
Higgins has supported many socially driven organizations, working most closely with Autism Speaks and the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) as a founding board member. He also serves on the boards of Momofuku, Milk Bar, VaynerMedia, Bluestone Lane, RESY and &pizza and has been named a top 40 executive in New York and one of the most outstanding executives in sports.
Liz Holland is a third generation business person in Des Moines and is the Chief Executive Officer and General Counsel of Abbell Associates. Liz is responsible for overseeing all business and legal matters, including development, financing, leasing, capital and construction projects, and investor and tenant relations.
Active in the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), Liz served as the first Vice Chairman (2015 - 2016) and Global Chairman (2016 - 2017) and currently serves as the Chairman of the Nominating and Governance Committee.
In addition to ICSC, Liz is also a member of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) - Commercial & Retail Council - Blue. In February 2017, Liz became a Trustee of Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRT). In January 2018, Liz joined the Board of VICI Properties, Inc., a gaming and hospitality real estate company. In May 2021, Liz was elected to the Board of the James Campbell Company.
KC Conway, CCIM, CRE, MAI
Economist and Futurist Kiernan “KC” Conway, CCIM, CRE, MAI is the mind trust behind Red Shoe Economics, LLC, an independent economic forecasting and consulting firm furthering KC’s mission as The Red Shoe Economist by providing organic research initiatives, reporting and insights on the impact of Economics within the commercial real estate industry. A proud graduate of Emory University with more than 30 years’ experience as a lender, credit officer, appraiser, instructor, and economist; KC is recognized for accurately forecasting real estate trends and ever-changing influences on markets all across the United States. With credentials from the CCIM Institute, Counselors of Real Estate and the Appraisal Institute, KC currently serves as Chief Economist of the CCIM Institute and as an Independent Director for Monmouth REIT MNR. A gifted and prolific speaker KC has made more than 850 presentations to industry, regulatory and academic organizations in the last decade, and has been published in many national and regional newspapers and journals with frequent contributions to radio and television programming.