BarCamps Unite Businesses at User-Generated Conferences

Since 2005, across the country — and the world — entrepreneurs, developers and techies have begun gathering in local, ad-hoc collectives called BarCamps to share their expertise. And now five small businesses with strong entrepreneurial roots have elected to support and deepen the trend by sponsoring these groups with what they call the BarCamp Tour, including the next stop: BarCamp Portland 5 this weekend.

BarCamps, the Unconference

BarCamps are user-generated conferences — or unconferences as some dub them — in which the attendees provide the content, typically in a participatory, workshop-like format. The unconference moniker is a reaction against typical conferences, which often involve high fees, sponsorship-driven presentations and top-down organization. BarCamps are generally free, and participants typically arrive to find blank white boards or sheets of paper taped to the wall upon which they suggest and schedule the sessions for the day. Any attendee can volunteer to run a session.

“With a traditional conference, I’m spending $300 or $400 to be there,” said Jonathan Kay of BarCamp Tour sponsor Grasshopper Group. “There’s a schedule. I’m going to see a couple of speakers who are paid to be there. BarCamps are unconferences. It’s so far from traditional conferences. They’re events put on by a community. Local companies and local organizations put them together. They cost no money.”

He added, “The whole underlying point of it is to share your passion. It’s very cool because you have this self-selected group of influential people. These are people who want to learn more. They want to meet other people. They want to connect. They want to learn.”

Kay, whose title at Grasshopper Group is the Ambassador of Buzz, often volunteers to lead a session on low-cost brand building at BarCamps he attends. And that is an example of what a BarCamp Tour sponsorship different from traditional conference sponsorships.

“And so unlike typical financial sponsorships, we’re not interested in just paying for a badge or logo on your BarCamp’s t-shirt,” Kevin Hale, co-founder of BarCamp Tour sponsor Wufoo, wrote in his blog. “We want to have a positive impact on making your BarCamp a success. That means we’ll all be there in presence and participating like good BarCamp citizens with panels, workshops and presentations on the topics you most want to know about. Additionally, we’re willing to roll up our sleeves and help with everything from setting up tables and projectors to hosting the after-party to make sure the fun doesn’t’t stop when the sun goes down.”

“We want to build on this idea of sponsorship as participation,” Kay added.

BarCamp Tour is composed of BatchBlue, a provider of small business CRM based in Providence, R.I.; Grasshopper Group, a provider of virtual phone systems for entrepreneurs based in Boston; Shopify, provider of hosted ecommerce solutions based in Ottawa, Canada; MailChimp, a provider of e-mail marketing and e-mail list management services based in Atlanta, Ga.; and Wufoo, provider of an online HTML form builder based in Tampa Bay, Fla.

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