LBCon readies for debut

If it's unclear what the inaugural Last Best Conference is about, well, that's part of the idea. Organizers say it will be whatever attendees make of it.

"Trying to describe how this is different from a traditional conference has been challenging," says Morgan Slemberger, lead organizer for LBCon, as it's nicknamed. "It's something people have to experience in order to fully understand why it's magical compared to other experiences."

LBCon intends to draw "seekers, thinkers and creative problem-solvers," according to Slemberger, and connect these entrepreneurial-minded people in a showcase for the state's small business community. Slemberger says she took inspiration from South by Southwest and Portland's World Domination Summit, a quirky gathering that includes both traditional workshops and attendee-led meet-ups.

LBCon, which starts at the Wilma on Aug. 25 and costs $199 to attend, will similarly feature workshops and breakout sessions, as well as guest presenters. Separate "academies," which cost extra, will specialize in things like the social role of entrepreneurship and money management. Keynote speakers include Ariel Adkins, the arts and culture liaison for Twitter, and Lu Setnicka, former global director of human resources for Patagonia.

The LBCon website features a prominent photo of Ira Glass on the "Speakers" page, but Glass won't be making an appearance.

"Ira Glass is just the model for the quality of speakers that we're bringing," Slemberger explains.

Slemberger is organizing LBCon as part of her work as a marketing and operations manager at the University of Montana's Blackstone Launchpad. She won't specify how many people have bought tickets to LBCon so far, but she expects to hit their minimum attendance goal of 75 to 100 people. Ticket sales are capped at 300.

The Missoula Economic Partnership joined LBCon as a sponsor in June, which is also when the first major volunteer meeting took place. MEP's Lindsey Wallace says the schedule has caused a bit of a scramble to pull things together.

"I know, it's a really short timeline," Wallace says. "But Morgan is super passionate. She's doing a great job, she's secured amazing speakers and we have confidence that it'll come together."

Everything is also coming together on a shoestring budget. According to Slemberger, the Wilma is renting out the space at a greatly reduced cost, and all the guests are waiving their speakers' fees and only being reimbursed for the cost of travel.

The Missoula Downtown Association and LBCon are working on an informal cross-promotion of events, since the River City Roots Festival will be taking place downtown at the same time. MDA Executive Director Linda McCarthy says next year she'd like to do more joint planning.

"First-year events are always kind of the hardest," McCarthy says. "And once you have your model down, you can plan the next year's event because you know what's expected. We're excited to see how this conference plays out."

Slemberger acknowledges this event is a particularly tricky sell, but she's optimistic about its chance for success.

"Our biggest hope is that people who attend leave feeling inspired to pursue a passion of theirs," she says.

Update: Conference organizers removed the Ira Glass image from the site as of Aug. 4.
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