Confusion and ambiguity conjures up a unique form of energy that seems to attract entrepreneurs and innovators and makes interesting things happen. This energy has been documented by leaders of entrepreneurial ecosystems like Brian Feld of Boulder, Colo., author of the book “Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.” He states that an entrepreneurial ecosystem -- individual entrepreneurs, corporations, nonprofit organizations, local government, and educational institutions working together to develop the entrepreneurial capacity and economic development of their region -- “needs to be a messy network" and nurtured to allow "the system to work itself out.”

The co-ordinators of BarCamp Sarasota-Bradenton are another great example of an entrepreneurial ecosystem that have been harnessing these energies for years by successfully running their annual “un-conference.” This past weekend they held their DaVinci’s Faire and BarCamp Un-conference at the Manatee Technical College campus in Bradenton, Fla.  -- “a weekend of learning, wonder, and amazement where YOU are the expert.”  An un-conference is an open-format regional conference where everyone interested in the growth and development of their community is welcome to speak on any topic they are passionate about. Their motto is Share-Learn-Grow.

Much like Tyler Durden's Fight Club, there are only two rules to the BarCamp UnConference:
1. You must want to help others learn what you know!
2. You are not here to sell or do a product presentation!

Speakers at this year’s un-conference represented a varied mix of entrepreneurs, tech geeks, social gurus, life hackers, makers, robotic enthusiasts, creators of new business services or inventions vetting out their new offerings to the group, social media and website technical specialists, a broad range of marketing and small business consultants, and representatives from small business development centers from local business universities and other community efforts for entrepreneurs. It was a day filled with passionate exchanges of ideas, engaged discussions and learning.

Since sessions are not scheduled in advance, the agenda was created the day of the event in the spirit of “come what may.” The topics for the conference depend on the participants and what is of interest to them.

“Potential speakers” are allowed to submit brief 200-word bios and topic descriptions for posting on the BarCamp website pre-conference, but many just showed up early morning of the conference, wrote their name and topic title on a sticky note, and placed their note on a large blackboard in a time slot that was open.

Once participants check in, they go to the scheduling area where the agenda is being created on the fly. The agenda is then dynamically updated throughout the day as presentations are added, expanded or changed. From there, participants are encouraged to reach out to each other to have a conversation, to choose a session that interests them, initiate a session of their own, or go to the Café or take a walk around the building to collect or tweet their thoughts. 

I highly recommend that you search out entrepreneurial activities and events like this in your local communities. If they are not there, then there is a strong need for leadership. Start one of your own! The Institute for Innovation Development is actively seeking out and working with these community efforts and leaders across the country to develop a guidebook and ongoing backup for Institute Founding Innovator members, positioning them to be able to initiate or support these much needed economic development efforts in their local communities. I’ll have more to share and discuss on this in the coming months.

BarCamp Sarasota-Bradenton is a regional business initiative and entrepreneurial ecosystem that emphasizes the intersection of business, technology, education, and economic development. Building a community through attendee-generated conferences, participatory workshops, lunch and learn and after-hour events; the open forum format is born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. BarCamp describes itself as a conversation that welcomes participants. Stan Schultes, Sara Hand and Tracy Ingram are co-founders.

The Institute for Innovation Development is an educational and business development catalyst for growth-oriented financial services firms. We position our members with the necessary ongoing innovation resources and coaching to drive and facilitate their growth, differentiation and unique community engagement strategies. The Institute was launched with the support and foresight of our founding sponsors--Innovation Equity Partners, Pershing, Voya Financial, Ultimus Fund Solutions, Fidelity, MeridianIQ/AdviceIQ, and Charter Financial Publishing (publisher of Financial Advisor and Private Wealth magazines).