This is definitely a defining moment in the history of Orlando's creative / tech / entrepreneurial scene. This is something I've been working on personally, along with hundreds of others, for what feels like forever now. That, or 7 years, whichever comes first.
A few years ago, I was in the right place at the right time to be able to hold an unconference during the Create Chaos event. (Big thanks to Katrina Diamond and Dana Delapi for the opportunity.)
I bring up BarCamp Chaos because it was capitalizing on a huge opportunity we have in Orlando - it is such an awesome destination - 50+ million visitors come here every year for pleasure, conventions, training, or to escape the snow. Major publications' travel columns have been picking up on the better qualities of the rest of Orlando (the part outside of Touristan) for some time now, like this week in New York Magazine. The locals know about all the cool culture in Orlando, and the rest of the world is starting to learn about it too. Now it's time for the Creatives to gain awareness in the wide world alongside the neighborhoods.
Today two people visited Urban ReThink from Kitchener/Waterloo in Canada - it's a well-known technology hub, but these two folks (one of whom works at an incubator with 50+ startup companies) thought they had something to learn from us. I fully intend to follow up on that meeting and keep the relationship alive. We have also had reporters from Brazil, Japan, Australia and other parts of the country ask us questions about Urban ReThink and what is going on here. While they are asking about UR, they are just asking because that's one of the few things they can see through the pin-prick-sized aperture they have to look at Orlando's creative scene.
When I say "this is going to be a turning point", I don't just mean Hilary's talk, but I also do mean Hilary's talk.
Not to put an undue amount of pressure on her, but I'm going to use her as an example.
For example, Hilary is on a technology advisory board for Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York. She has also given keynote presentations in front of thousands of people, or in front of a few people who can afford a more intimate setting. If she has something nice to say about Orlando, it will be hard to measure the exact impact of her report, but I promise you it will have an impact. One theme that comes up over and over in my life is that the world is a very small place and technology is making ii smaller by the minute.
Should I be writing this? It sounds like we are trying to use someone who we are having as a guest to get something we want. That's not how I see it. This is more of a "you get out what you put in" or "if you make yourself available" or something like that. I have nothing directly to gain from this event other than getting to meet someone I admire and respect. Beyond that I'm happy to know everyone else is having a good time, and last but not least that we have raised a few dollars for the Urban Think Foundation.
I could just as easily write about my excitement in discovering Lance Vick at BarCampMiami - "this guy is going to put Orlando on the map", I said to myself at some point. Hopefully he will help open the aperture the rest of the world has to see Orlando in the process.
Yet another reason why tomorrow's event is kind of a big deal has to do with the idea of making events like this recurring - maybe we bring Hilary back, maybe other special guests, maybe we start up the Creative Summit after the idea has been laying on the back burner for so long. There are lots of paths to take from this point, which is no different from most of the rest of life. Except this time there is an amazing group of people helping out.
Curtis, Steve, Puja, Ken, Elizabeth, Darren, Dina, Pat, Kathryn and so many others have all been pulling together to make Sunday's event and the ongoing Tech Thursdays at Urban ReThink really special. This simply would not have been possible in the old days. At some point in the last month I realized that we had crossed some major milestones in the health of our community when we were able to pull together events like this and Florida Drupal Camp in our free time, while raising money from sponsors, bringing in awesome speakers from out of town like Jason Pamental, skyping in creators from all over the world and our own backyard, and creating new events like Drupal Coworking Fridays here in Orlando that have spread across the globe.
Are there other things I would like to see? Sure. But that's always the case. The moment I have everything I ever wanted for the community, then my vision must have stopped growing. Not that I have all the answers - we steal from the best.
Then today I was talking to Tony from Kitchener and I realized something that made events like Startup Weekend and the Orlando Fringe Festival so very important to me - they both honor and encourage the same kind of collaboration and experimentation. Startup Weekend is, by defenition, fleeting. You don't really have enough time to do anything but generate a great pitch for your startup, and all of the prerequisites, which are numerous. Similarly, at Fringe, after 7 performances, no matter what, you are done with that show.
- The investment is small - more of your time than anything, and revisions are cheap.
- The audience knows what they are getting in to - early adopters, patrons, peers, and true fans.
- The friendships you make, particularly with other teams, can make a long-lasting change in your life, and in this way you can grow a global network.
- As a creative, you get to see what is on the cutting edge in your community, or where the local talent pool is rooted.
- There is just enough potential for fame and fortune to make it glamourous.
- The creme-de-la-creme will go on to be real jobs and new careers. The others are awesome learning experiences.
- You get to work outside your comfort zone, if that's what you want. (trust me, you want it)
- I could go on...
This is certainly a rant-heavy blog post, so wrapping up will be a bit challenging. Here's a shot:
At BarCamp Orlando last month, I encouraged Urban ReThink's Resident Wizard, Kathryn Neel, to give a talk called "Not the next Silicon Valley, the first Orlando". She actually did an amazing job, and far exeeded what I could have done with it. She also got a lot of great feedback and well-deserved adulation after the talk. The point is that all the ingredients for making Orlando a first-class city are out there, we just need to tap into them - our number one problem is likely more cultural than one of infrastructure, although the infrastructure can be made to support a culture if one exists.
I'd like to keep the discussion going about how to make both culture and infrastructure strong. Sunday is a great chance to start that discussion. So is Monday, May 21st under the Fringe Festival Beer Tent, and tons of other times in the next few months.
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