For about the last decade Douglas Sorocco has been promoting Creativity conferences in the state and around the world.
And in parallel, Tommy Yi has been holding Open Beta events over about the same number of years.
Monday, Yi and Sorocco launched a new mashup idea: They combined the two conference themes into one called Creativity Beta.
Yi said they wanted to provide an event where those two groups could interact and get to know each other more.
“Too many creative people have been in silos for too long,” said Sorocco. “This is meant to start getting us out of those.”
Held at the recently completed Jones Assembly in Oklahoma City, the event drew a rich mix of creatives and tech types.
The conference featured a broad spectrum of speakers and music, too.
By design, the day shifted from serious topics earlier in the day to music and fun.
Yi said he and Sorocco wanted to put on a conference where they tried that kind of content mix that isn’t a usual thing.
The two have a long track record of founding organizations that shake things up and make Oklahoma City a friendlier place for entrepreneurs.
Yi founded his co-working space this year called StarSpace46 in a highly unlikely industrial area west of downtown OKC on the west side of Western Avenue.
It’s the third one he has formed in succession over a decade giving the OKC tech community and startups a place to land as they develop.
And like his two previous co-working spaces, StarSpace46 has become a hub of user-groups and schools.
Sorocco is one of the principals in the intellectual property law firm Dunlap Codding.
The firm was among the first to boldly repurpose an industrial space on Film Row, at the time considered risky.
The space provides beautiful offices for the firm and a gathering space for a broad spectrum of events.
Dunlap Codding provided proof that the dour, smelly old buildings along a dead industrial corridor could be transformed into new, creative uses.
The idea took hold all along Reno between Walker and Classen.
The Jones Assembly and neighboring 21c Hotel are the latest outgrowth of Dunlap Codding’s architectural influence.
A strong feature of the conference were the breakout sessions that allowed for on-the-spot coaching and generating of new ideas.
Resisting the usual conference mistake of going into separate rooms for the breakout sessions, this conference had groups staking out parts of the room to circle up participants quickly and engage in conversation.
Several of the breakout sessions very quickly had people working together in pairs and then small groups to develop new skills and knowledge.
The conference had speakers from far away and Oklahoma City.
Two local disrupters created an unusually still and silent crowd when they spoke. Was it because they were getting into uncomfortable territory? Could be.
Now known throughout the world as the founder of Free Code Camp, OKC resident Quincy Larson took on the biggest unacknowledged elephant in any well-educated room: ridiculous levels of college debt for questionable actual value received.
He started off with one of Stewart Brand’s many famous quotes: “Information wants to be free.”
He then talked about the now popular variation on that: Education wants to be free.
He said that currently 44 million people have trillions of dollars in college debt.
Larson told the group that Free Code Camp gives people an avenue to peer coach and learn from volunteer teachers, going on to get good jobs in coding without debt.
His points and argument about the value of free education brought thoughtful postures and looks from conference attendees.
Well-known local real estate developer Jonathan Dodson had a similar effect on the crowd.
He told about the transformation in his life from banker to socially and morally conscious developer in communities that bankers had abandoned years ago.
Joining with his partners in Pivot Project and Sandino Thompson, native of Oklahoma City’s predominantly black east side, he ran into the systemic racism that has caused the east side to deteriorate over the last 40 years.
They talked to 15 bankers with no serious hearing before they found a private investor who would guarantee the loan from one of the banks for a development project on the east side.
Free Press reported on the NE 23rd Street development project and the groundbreaking in October.
Dodson has been consistently thoughtful in his approach to development from one project to another mostly in midtown OKC.
But this last project has had an obviously different effect on him.
He said that after 40 years of racist refusal to invest in the east side, bankers are now in a position where comps won’t allow them to loan enough to help with development.
“We can make nonracist decisions that have racist outcomes,” said Dodson.
“It’s a lie that a rising tide lifts all boats. A rising tide sinks all boats that have holes,” he said to a very quiet and still room.
Dodson is not the same man he was just three and one-half years ago when he left his banking job.
He is much more socially and morally aware of the weight of decisions in a part of the economy that claims to be neutral but seldom is.
It’s another aspect – perhaps a darker one – of what it means to expand and reach into the unexplored parts of our culture and economy where entrepreneurs often go.