Saving Innovation: Can a DIY culture of meet-ups, competitions, and “unconferences” spark more start-ups in the state?

Post by Ben Edwards

It was a warm Saturday in late May, and instead of rolling out the dock up at the cabin or going for a jog around the chain of lakes, more than 600 people chose to spend their day inside Best Buy’s Richfield headquarters, attending an all-day series of workshops and discussions.

Welcome to Minnebar, a geeky gathering that’s become a twice-a-year tradition for many in the Twin Cities tech and design communities. The free—and freewheeling—event featured sessions on everything from open-source coding and app development to brewing beer and bettering the state’s start-up economy.

If that agenda seems haphazard, it might help to understand how the event comes together. Organizers Ben Edwards and Luke Francl pick the time and venue, but they leave it up to attendees to choose the speakers and session topics.

Scratch that. 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.

It may sound messy, but over the past four years, Minnebar has shown that it works. The event is now the largest of its kind in the country, with attendance eclipsing even the Silicon Valley sessions that inspired it. It’s the highest-profile example of how new entrepreneurs are building not only businesses but new institutions to support innovation and entrepreneurship in the region.

We’re excited to be at the epicenter of such activities in the Twin Cities. Through our hosting of technology events and user groups at our NE Minneapolis office and active participation in the start-up/entrepreneur community, we have a good vantage from which to help our clients realize their technology and strategic, goals. Read the full article about grassroots innovation in Minnesota in this month’s Twin Cities Business Feature

About Ben Edwards

Designer of information and interactions; contributes as much with enthusiasm and drive as anything else; generalist; can migrate easily between discussions of databases, use cases, and Photoshop techniques; avid blogger (from the days when it didn't have a name); critic of bad design; organized and presented at the minnebar (un)conference in Minneapolis; married, no children, dog; loves travel. alttext.com, minnestar.org, @alttext
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