The alternative investments space keeps growing, and so does the annual Innovative Alternative Investment Strategies Conference hosted by Financial Advisor and Private Wealth magazines. More than 700 attendees—a record amount in the event’s fifth year—came to Denver in late July/early August to hear two days of panel sessions and presentations devoted to alternative investments, plus a one-day workshop focused on the emerging impact investment space that kicked off the show.

While alternative investments were the event’s focal point, one of the show’s highlights was Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, who was the luncheon speaker the day after Major League Baseball’s trade deadline, when he pulled off one of the biggest deadline deals in acquiring Boston Red Sox ace pitcher Jon Lester. His entertaining presentation included behind-the-scenes glimpses of Moneyball––both the movie starring Brad Pitt as Beane and the book by Michael Lewis that inspired it––and a discussion about the analytical prowess that enables the A’s to remain one of baseball’s best teams despite being a small-market club constrained by one of the game’s tightest payrolls. He extended his time on the podium by an extra half-hour to field an overflow of questions during the Q&A session.

Other noted speakers included Jim Grant and Jeffrey Gundlach. Grant, editor and founder of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, laid out his beefs with the Federal Reserve’s current activist policies and offered some surprising investment picks that he likes––including gold miners and Russian energy giants Gazprom and Lukoil.

Gundlach, CEO and chief investment officer at the bond shop DoubleLine, has been a frequent luncheon speaker at the alternative investment conference. This year’s presentation focused on the housing market. Specifically, he doesn’t believe the housing market will crash, nor does he think it will drive the economy like it did throughout most of the post-World War II era. He posited that changing demographics in the U.S. will alter the housing market, and that won’t be a friend to home builders.

Marquee speakers aside, the conference panel sessions covered the alts universe, from private equity and venture capital to liquid alternative funds and business development companies. One well-attended session featured leading advisors discussing how they use alternatives in client portfolios.

“We want to make sure that clients understand we’re seeking an alternative source of returns from stocks and bonds,” said Dan Roe, chief investment officer at Budros, Ruhlin & Roe Inc., an RIA in Columbus, Ohio. “That’s why the definition of alternatives becomes important. These are allocations and a combined strategy meant to be a buffer, to achieve positive returns and, in this environment, achieve positive returns greater than bonds while having volatility more akin to a bond allocation than to the equity markets.”

Thomas Meyer, president of Meyer Capital Group, a wealth manager in Marlton, N.J., said alternatives aren’t a silver bullet but instead should be thought of as shock absorbers that help protect clients during downturns better than long-only portfolios. “If you want to try to lower the beta in an effective way, then you should have at least 20% to 25% in alternatives.”

During the one-day impact investing workshop that began the overall three-day event at the Colorado Convention Center, speakers talked about the growing interest in the space. “A lot of people think about impact investing as being a niche, but more people are seeing it as a core philosophy,” said Chat Reynders, CEO and chairman at Reynders, McVeigh Capital Management in Boston.

The sixth annual Innovative Alternative Investment Strategies Conference is planned for next July 12–14 in Denver.