The Eighth Startup Accelerator unconference took place in Madison, WI, at the University of Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery this past Saturday. The Startup Accelerator offers free events, with lunch included, for entrepreneurs and entrepreneur-hopefuls to exchange ideas with each other and with folks who have expertise in a variety of areas.
In a typical unconference, there is no keynote speaker, no panel of experts, no hierarchical structure, only a barely-necessary structure at all, and probably none of them are typical.
A Startup Accelerator begins approximately the same as a traditional conference, with sign-in, breakfast-style snacks, coffee, an informal meet-and-greet, and a general introductory session wherein the attendees speak briefly about their interests, talents, plans. This offers opportunities to depart from the conventional conference path.
If a participant has a startup running, say, he/she might be asked to facilitate a breakout session. Another participant may have only the vaguest of ideas about starting a business, and she/he might be asked to facilitate a session in which participants would jam on ideas around that participant’s concerns and questions. The latter actually occurred with great success on Saturday.
Along with impromptu facilitators, other facilitators had volunteered on the web site prior to the event.
The proposed breakout sessions are recorded on post-its that are placed on a blue tape grid on the wall defining times and room assignments for the breakouts. The post-its are moved to best conform with the wishes of the group as to time slots and conflicts in sessions: You might want to attend two sessions and ask that one of the sessions be moved to a time not in conflict with the other.
When we each gave a brief introduction of ourselves to the group, Rachel, a student with a fine sense of humor, suggested that she may concoct a nefarious business plan sometime in the future. She then laughed like a black-and-white horror movie evil scientist. She added that she would have to work on her evil laugh before the plan could be launched.
A suggestion was made that we have a breakout session on maniacal laughter. Another suggestion was that we include maniacal laughter as part of another session. A third suggestion was that since we had 10 minutes before the first scheduled breakout we could do the maniacal laughter right now. So we did.
A wide variety of maniacal laughs from nearly everyone ran the gamut of delightful. From the more conventional evil belly laugh to a hunched-shouldered, hand-wringing squeak-squeak-squeak. Some laughs evoked non-maniacal laughter, some were applauded, some smiled at, all appreciated. There was no right way to do it and there was no wrong way. Maniacal laughter was the ultimate icebreaker.
An hour-long breakout session jamming on maniacal laughter could have occurred, including ideas about Halloween masks with maniacal laughs built in, making a video of ordinary folks exhibiting maniacal laughs, ideas for psuedo-maniacal stunts, or any other path to any other concept.
I doubt you’d find a conventional conference with the keynote speaker, the Experts, and all the participants sharing an evil laugh or two.
The difference between conference and un could be defined in a word, spontaneity, or maybe it should be defined as a superior way to learn a lot and share a lot, or maybe it should be defined as just plain fun.