The Rise of the unConference

unConferences have been breaking onto the business scene for a few years now, but came to my notice only in 2009. (I’m having light palpitations after starting a sentence with a small letter, but all for the sake of informing learning entrepreneurs.)

BizCamp Belfast is one such species. What is an unConference? Cool and trendy? Anarchy? Chaos? Read on…

So, what is BizCamp Belfast?

BizCamp Belfast should not be confused with its sister unConference, BarCamp Belfast. BarCamp is more closely aligned with technical types, developers, those who develop iPhone applications for example. Having attended both versions, I found BizCamp Belfast of more use, chiefly due to the largely non-developer nature of the majority of the talks.

BizCamp Belfast is a user-generated business unconference for entrepreneurs, innovators and startups to share and learn in an open environment.

How is it Different?

  • In the true spirit of innovation, most buzz and information about the day is available online, via its own website and exchanges via the social networks, mainly Twitter. The “delegate” list, for example, is online; the list of speakers and topics is also online. Both supply links back to everyone’s website or Twitter profile.
  • Speakers volunteer their time and expertise.
  • There are no set topics, though I imagine most speakers use the above-mentioned definition, for a little focus.
  • The “agenda” is arranged during the first round of tea and coffee before everything kicks off, via post-it notes stuck to a poster with time-slots – speakers pick their own slot.
  • Most people will ditch the 9-5 uniform of the traditional business world and wear what’s comfortable. For some that’s a suit, for some that means jeans and trainers. For those of us who feel constrained to dress in uncomfortable suits during the week, oh the joy!
  • Local entrepreneurial caterers, who see the value of exposure to emerging entrepreneurial people and the online frenzy such an event generates, will voluntarily offer to supply good coffee and tea, and/or food, on the day. What fabulous foresight!? Would many businesses do this? (And yet, most of us know that volunteering often leads to other work, from those on the receiving end of your philanthropy, or from those in attendance. It’s a good idea, from purely mercenary reasons.)
  • Conference packs are nowhere to be seen (do any of us ever open them again?), though most speakers will offer to email copies of notes or slides, if you supply your name, business and email address.
  • The day is rounded off – for those who wish – with a wee drink.

BizCamp Belfast and unconferences of this ilk remove barriers to entry. Entrepreneurial giants sit alongside newbies. The vibe is decidedly non-starry, welcoming, chilled and nurturing. I thank Sharon for allowing me to indulge her on the day with my enthusiasm for virtual office and open, incubator spaces. :)

Personal Benefits to New and Upcoming Entrepreneurs

  1. People will come up and say hi. Hanging around networking via social media sites gives us all the useful illusion that we know each other a little better, so it’s easier to walk over and say, “Hi, don’t I know you from your avatar?”. If this all sounds a little geeky, then you need to waken up to how the web has changed business, networking, sourcing talent and selling in Northern Ireland over the last wee while. It’s no longer acceptable to say, “I leave that all computer stuff to my 21-year old web developer.”
  2. Experienced people will offer advice freely; this tends not to happen so often at more formal conferences or networking events. Just ignore those who’re scared of someone stealing their business idea. Sharing is good. If you’re afraid of poachers, then don’t display all your shiny fish so freely for them to drool over!
  3. Inexperienced people feel totally at liberty to say, “I don’t know, I need help, I’m not sure, where can I advertise my… where could I find a…” I’ve witnessed it over and over again; the old hands will jump in with helpful stuff. I’ve even had people take notes, when I’m trying to help them out. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, that I’m contributing to the community that helped to provide me with a degree or two, experience and opportunities. I’m not a believer in karma, but it does seem that what goes around, comes around.

Talks I Attended

Busting Loose from The Business Game You learned the rules and you’ve been faithful to them, thinking you can win. But you can’t really win the Business Game, because it’s designed to be unwinnable – that is as long as you play by the rules you were taught. The only way to truly win is to bust lose from the “old” game and start playing new game with a new set of rules.

Based on the book, “Busting Loose from The Business Game” by Robert Scheinfeld

Hugh Burgess (@TBusinessMentor)

Here ‘s How You Improve The Success of Your Business in 2010 A straight to the point no nonsense approach in improving the success of your business in 2010.

I will show you why FEAR is a bottleneck on your road to success. More specifically fear of failure and self limiting beliefs.

These two factors above a lack of marketing knowledge or organisational development are the real knives in the back of your business success.

When “Fear of Failure” becomes “Let’s Do It!” and “Self Limiting Beliefs” become “Self Empowering Beliefs”, that’s when success really happens.

Then and only then do business owners focus on their business and personal goals instead of focusing on their problems.

Mike Fountain (@Mike_Fountain)

Bad Apples or Bad Basket A practical guide on managing difficult people.

I am a Business Psychologist specialising in Performance Improvement, Training & Development & Change.

Ruth Thompson (@behavioureye)

I also attended two talks by Liam McGarry from McGarry Consulting/Wee Man Studios and Rory O’Connor of The Creativity Hub.

If you attended BizCamp Belfast this month, add your thoughts in a comment.

Feel free to click around the many links in this post to find out who attended and what they do. Alternatively, get in touch for a chat. Who knows, I may be able to persuade you to attend the next one.

Update August 2010: BizCamp Belfast 2010 is coming!!

Image credit: psd.