In fifth year, BarCamp Omaha draws largest, most eclectic crowd
In its fifth year, BarCamp Omaha found a new home at The Slowdown.
A stroll around The Slowdown on Saturday, midway through the afternoon portion of BarCamp Omaha, revealed speakers serving up a smorgasboard of presentations about personal passions. In one corner, a group enjoyed a look into the life of a "mompreneuer." A few feet away, another audience tuned in to an address about the joys of old-time radio. At the far end of the venue, a crowd took in a talk on writing real code.
But as eclectic as the topics of those talks were, the crowd listening to them may have been even more diverse.
In a year for BarCamp Omaha that was marked by growth — from a previous high of about 150 attendees to a crowd of 200 this year — and movement — from its home of three years, the Nomad Lounge, to The Slowdown — perhaps the biggest story at this year's event was an infusion of new blood.
About half the people at the fifth BarCamp Omaha were first-timers, Hello Holiday co-founder and BarCamp co-organizer and Megan Hunt said. That crowd of newcomers was comprised largely of people who work in the fine and visual arts, plus students and prospective entrepreneurs.
"It seems that there are a lot of new faces at this event that I've never seen before," said Gabe Kangas, a developer at CrowdStar and return BarCamp Omaha attendee. "I think that's a really good thing. It's not just a bunch of nerds in a room like it used to be."
Like its BarCamp brethren across the world, the Omaha rendition is an "unconference," which is to say it's an event without any predetermined agenda. Following Friday's opening party, BarCamp organizers divided Saturday's schedule into three tracks — technology, creative and entrepreneur — and 30-minute time slots. Attendees took the reins from there.
Anyone was welcome to sign up for a time slot and share his or her passion. And, this year, a wide array of anyones did exactly that.
BarCamp was born out of a tech-centric crowd, and Saturday's event had plenty to offer for those of the technical persuasion. But the event also featured plenty for those who didn't know a lick of code.
Like, for instance, that old-time radio presentation. Delivered by BarCamp Omaha regular Corey Spitzer, the offbeat talk earned high marks afterward.
"You don't hear that talk anywhere else," Kangas said. "I didn't know anything about it, and now I know some history behind it."
Said Wufoo co-founder and two-time BarCamp Omaha speaker Kevin Hale (left): "(It was) probably one of the best BarCamp talks I've seen this year. It's something that I didn't even know about, but it's just someone who's extremely passionate about one topic and just sort of bringing it out to the masses."
Hale, who's part of the BarCamp Tour, attends about 10 of the events across the U.S. each year. He said he was struck Saturday by the "diversity of people — both in sort of getting outside of the tech-only focus of most BarCamps, but also in sort of reaching across gender and different types of cultures."
More than just serving to explain the year-over-year growth of the event, Hunt said, that diversity indicated the health of Omaha's entrepreneurial scene.
"The thing that made me the happiest from this year's BarCamp is just how many new people there were; it's not just the same people," she said.
"There are so many people who are finding out about this culture in Omaha for the first time, and just knowing that we can reach them makes me so hopeful for the future of entrepreneurship in Omaha."
Saturday's schedule was divided into three tracks — technology, creative and entrepreneur — featuring 10 time-slots each.
A BarCamp Omaha record of about 200 people packed The Slowdown, with an influx of prospective entrepreneurs and fine and visual artists complementing the event's traditional, tech-savvy crowd.
Disclosure: Silicon Prairie News was a media sponsor of BarCamp Omaha. Dusty Davidson, the CEO of Silicon Prairie News, was one of the organizers of the event.
Credits: Photos by Brittany Mascio.