Business is thriving in Utah and, if the difficulty finding parking was any indication, connecting and learning from professional peers is also thriving as well.

Lots were full outside, and business was buzzing inside the annual Big Biz Conference at the UCCU Events Center at Utah Valley University Wednesday and Thursday. It was a place to connect with colleagues, expand networks, and discover new skills from various industries.

New this year was a partnership between Bennett Events and Beehive Startups in Provo. That coupling sought to bring together diverse business industries in the valley and newer technology under one roof.

“An entrepreneur is an entrepreneur, whether you are starting a restaurant or a tech company,” said Clint Betts, founder and CEO of Beehive Startups. “We want to make sure those running small businesses here in Utah are recognized and celebrated.”

A few local companies were able to showcase their skills and developments in Wednesday’s Tech 10 Competition. After presentations from 10 newer local companies, business leaders awarded the best of the best. Provo company Heroic, a two-year-old cybersecurity company, earned the People’s Choice award, while Lehi-based data analytics company FreshLime took home the Business Model Development award. Orem-based smart fragrance company Pura Scents earned the Best Disruptive Technology award, and Weave, a Lehi software company focused on patient relationships, earned the Best Sales Traction award. Provo-based Grow, a data scoreboard company earned the Best UX Design award, and Elearning Brothers, an American Fork course development company, took home the Experts Choice award.

The conference included an exhibit area where local businesses could show off their products or services, as is typical. However, many of those same businesses then participated — either in teaching or attending — in classes centered on bettering their companies. Classes touched on pain points for companies as they work to move from startup to small business to multi-million dollar company.

Rudy Ruettiger, the inspiration for the 1993 movie “Rudy,” spoke Thursday on both self-improvement, and how it breeds professional success.

Various aspects of business needs were addressed, from coding and technology needs, to the art of marketing and how technology has improved the sales stream, to motivation for moving companies forward. These classes were not general “You can do it!” sessions, but detailed how-to’s for executives, middle management and the single business owner.

A fair number of classes dealt with marketing – the life blood of business. Stryde COO Greg Shuey posed the question, “What if [Insert Favorite Social Platform] Was Gone Tomorrow?” in his presentation. For those companies that rely on social media as a business driver, he shared the need to take that a step forward.

“You are building your audience on rented land,” he said, encouraging companies to see social media as a place to initiate and capture customers, but not rely on that to keep them.

In order to retain target customers, companies need to use social media to engage meaningfully with them, while also building a customer email list. That, Shuey said, is where companies control how and when they can communicate with their ideal customers. He revealed how this strategy works in all industries at all levels of business size, even down to the self-employed guitar lesson teacher or beekeeper.

“All industries can ‘own’ their audience, and focus on those who are their ideal customer,” Shuey said.

This type of information is why the conference is considered a success in Utah, according to Roxanne Bennett, co-owner of Bennett Events, and founder of the Big Biz Conference.

“The value is in tying our tech and business community together, where we can bring everyone together as one complete community. That helps everyone thrive and grow,” she said. “This gives business owners an opportunity to learn from others and showcase who they are.”

Karissa Neely reports on Business & Community events, and can be reached at (801) 344-2537 or kneely@heraldextra.com. Follow her on Twitter: @DHKarissaNeely