With a provocative title “Saving Innovation” (print version) author Dan Haugen (see also danhaugen.com) asks “Can a DIY culture of meet-ups, competitions, and unconferences spark more start-ups in Minnesota?” He profiles
- Cold Start
- Bootstrappers Breakfast – Minneapolis
- Cleantech Open
- Mojo Minnesota
At Minnebar’s “unconferences,” there are no attendees or speakers, only participants. An unconference is to a conference what Wikipedia is to an encyclopedia. Instead of flying in authors or executives, Minnebar taps the knowledge of the crowd. Anyone can volunteer his or her expertise, and everyone collaborates ahead of time on line and votes to decide what makes the agenda. Sessions flow like conversations rather than lectures.
Part of the reason that this works is small session size that allows for conversation. Once there are more than 35-40 people in the room it’s very difficult for the meeting not to become a lecture interspersed with questions. The economics of a traditional conference tend to push for sessions larger than this, hosted by “big names” to draw a large crowd. Peer to peer events have to take place in less expensive locations: their economics are fundamentally different.
The availability of social media and other online tools is an enabling factor, bringing the cost of organizing and promoting events down to almost nothing. But these groups and programs still take time and energy to pull together. Edwards says coordinating Minnebar is “like planning a big wedding every half year.”
Clay Shirky‘s “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations” talks about what happens when you can assume that everyone in your team, group, or network has access to a new medium (e.g. e-mail, twitter, LinkedIn). It changes the group forming characteristics and lowers the cost of coordination significantly. For example, if you look at the original Homebrew Computer Club signup they had to rely on postal mail, telephone, flyers, and a pre-existing network of relationships.
Whether it’s Minnebar letting the audience lead sessions or TechdotMN soliciting a blog post from a local entrepreneur, the ethic in many of these groups is based on participants learning from each other, often in an informal setting. You’re more likely to find these gatherings in a neighborhood pub than a hotel conference room.
I think entrepreneurs benefit greatly from joining self-improvement groups to compare notes and gain a perspective on their current challenges. It’s true for public speaking, weight loss, running, managing addiction, and managing chronic conditions like diabetes. All of these benefit from a community of practice approach.
Kevin Spreng, the key volunteer who brought the Bootstrapper Breakfast to Minneapolis, is also quoted:
Kevin Spreng, a corporate finance attorney at Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi, started a local chapter of the national group Bootstrappers Breakfast out of similar concerns about entrepreneurial vitality in the state. The monthly meetings are for entrepreneurs who are trying to forgo the traditional path of seeking angel and venture capital investors. That’s a skill Spreng passionately believes entrepreneurs need to learn.
“I personally believe, despite my desires, that the venture capital industry is declining,” he says, “which means that venture capital is going to be less available to early-stage companies, and as that happens, either we’re going to start losing new businesses, or we’re going to need to find another way to help people build them.”
And the Bootstrappers Breakfast is profiled on page 6 of the article.
What It Is: Monthly meet-up for entrepreneurs seeking alternatives to angel and venture funding
Founded: 2010[In Minneapolis] Founder: Kevin Spreng, partner, Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi
Motivation: Spreng says, “My personal mission in this space is to help create a new ecosystem that supports and encourages the growth and financing of companies in a new way.”
How It’s Supporting Innovation: Entrepreneurs compare experiences, find partners, and help each other brainstorm and work through strategies for growing a company, often without the benefit of significant angel or venture capital. The discussions have typically attracted between 5 and 20 people, mostly Web and software entrepreneurs. “There’s a core group that shows up, and then every month we have three or four new people,” Spreng says. “I’m very happy with the participation.”
Web Site: meetup.com/bootstrappers-breakfast-minneapolis/