2015 Entrepalooza’s ‘Unconference’ Unlocks Ideation and Unleashes Entrepreneurial Innovation

Olga Nichols, BBA ’17, had never been to an “unconference” before. But at this year’s Entrepalooza, she had an opportunity to take part in the participant-driven format, which focuses on the informal exchange of information and ideas among attendees rather than on the formal remarks delivered by a guest speaker. “This is the best way for everyone to be heard,” Nichols said. “In our team we talked about ideas and took them to the next level.”

The unconference segment of Entrepalooza, held Sept. 25 in the Michigan League on the University of Michigan campus, challenged students to come up with ideas for increasing diversity in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. On a large bulletin board in the League’s second-floor concourse, unconference organizers posted 12 different headings that represented different approaches to increasing diversity, such as market outreach, mentoring, funding, events, alumni engagement, addressing stereotypes, action-based learning and integrating entrepreneurship into education. Then they invited students to choose their favorite headings and form teams to brainstorm about innovative ideas and strategies for putting thought into action. Six topics were considered during each of two rounds in the session

At the end of the unconference, each team had 60 seconds to present its most creative ideas to the entire student gathering, which was asked to vote on the best presentation. Among the strategies and solutions that surfaced were:

  • Offering cross-mentoring to students across schools and colleges
  • Making resources for IP easier to access
  • Sharing case studies written by students
  • Raising capital from alumni
  • Giving student interns more responsibility in host companies
  • Opening U-M events to other colleges and the community
  • Creating a centralized website for entrepreneurship events and resources
  • Supporting projects that promote cross-disciplinary collaboration
  • Launching additional business incubators and accelerators
  • Engaging U-M researchers to help solve social problems in Detroit
  • Promoting greater collaboration among universities within and outside Michigan

Unconference participants said they enjoyed the loosely structured, highly creative team format for generating innovative solutions and driving positive change. “This experience was about the conversation, about bouncing ideas off one another and about creating an upward spiral rather than being fed information,” said Sharena Rice, a post-baccalaureate student in neuroscience.

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