Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Create Baltimore 2

Create Baltimore 2

This past weekend I was able to participate in Create Baltimore 2.  Create Baltimore is like a one day conference for creative types who live,work, and study in Baltimore.  The basic idea behind the conference to bring together people who live and love the city in an effort to enhance and improve the city.  I found out about this conference from a friend a week before so I did not know what to expect.  

Topics of the day were creative by nature and included entrepreneurship, food, maintaining a green community, women in technology, 3d printing and manufacturing, getting your project funded socially, education, news and journalism in the city, and many many more.  I think there were 25 topics and 15 session slots.

The conference had a  very organic feel to it.  It seemed like everything was organized to promote conversation and creative thinking.  If follows the "unconference" model.  The day was divided up into sessions and the people in the sessions were allowed to handle it as they saw fit.  As if that wasn’t organic enough the conference schedule was decided during the opening session.  This was unlike any conference I’ve ever been to.  Before the conference people submitted topic ideas online via twitter and in person on little note cards.  The moderator then took these topic ideas and read them out loud to the entire audience.  The topics were then grouped into related categories.  The crowd then voted on which topics they wanted to have and then rooms were chosen for them.   I thought this went really well for the size of the crowd that was present.  

The breakout sessions were pretty much a group of people sitting in a room talking.  This gave us the freedom to structure the session as we saw fit.  In the first session I went to based on education, half of the session was spent talking about education and Baltimore.  What it means, what problems there are, and what fixing them would look like.  The second half of the session people presented projects they were working on in 60 second pitches.  This allowed everyone to get their ideas and contact information out in the open for everyone to take down.  I found this method very rewarding.  I got to learn about many of the wonderful projects people are working on to improve teachers, students, and the use of technology in schools.  There is a lot of cool and interesting projects going on in the city.  I’m sure many people don’t know about them, and this is an issue.  How do we get the word out?  How do we share with the world some of these wonderful things that are going on?

The afternoon sessions I went to were social entrepreneurship and youth entrepreneurship.  The social entrepreneurship was focused around finding alternative sources of funding for your project and/or business.  We talked about using sites like kickstarter and indiegogo to raise capital.  We also discussed the differences between for profit and non profit businesses.  What I learned and found most interested was Maryland was the first state to offer a hybrid category, where you can be a for profit with a goal for social change.  It’s something that’s really new, but very exciting in that it opens the possibilities for what businesses can do.  Baltimore has lots of resources for raising capital. The problem is that there are over 1700 non-profits in the city fighting to get a piece of that money.  How can we raise money through alternate sources?  How do we change the system so that there are more and newer opportunities for business in the city?  Due to some unexpected car trouble I had to leave the entrepreneurship session early, so I wasn’t able to get much out of that one.  

My only grip about the conference was, although diverse, I think it represented only a small sample of what Baltimore is.  What people think of Baltimore is not what was present at the conference.  To me it’s a good and bad thing.  It shows that there are people in the city who want to change it, who want to improve it.  On the flip-side, it shows that either the word is not being spread about this conference, or people are not interested, which would be sad.  There were lots of representatives from University of Baltimore, Maryland Institute College of Art, and Towson University.  Where were the students from Coppin State and Morgan State, two other Universities in the Baltimore city area?  I think it’s great to see a lot of community members come out and support this event, but I think there is “community” that can and should participate in the future. How do we involved the greater Baltimore community in this wonderful event?

One thing I could see was really apparent about Create Baltimore was that the focus of it was finding creative ways to break traditional models.  We need to come up with newer, better, and more creative ways to improve the city.  Changing the way people think about the city, changing the way education is done, changing the way manufacturing is handled, changing the way news and media are handled, and changing the way we live in the city.  Baltimore is a great city that has come upon tough times and an even tougher reputation that most people get from a TV show (albeit a great one).  Events like Create Baltimore look to improve the city from the inside out, and I see it as being a start to bringing big change in the city and others all over the country.