Entrepreneurship Initiative Conference: Understanding The Informal Organization of Innovation

Tags: Entrepreneurship

Innovation involves dynamism and change that challenges the status quo. The way that innovation is organized, importantly, is not static. Innovation occurs in well-known organizational settings, such as through corporate research development, startups, or through parties’ contractual arrangements. But emerging strategies to organize innovation frequently involve novel structures, curious features, and surprising participants. Notably, law and formal mechanisms are often absent or relaxed. These developments give rise to the 2015 edition of Silicon Flatirons Annual Entrepreneurship Conference, which examines The Informal Organization of Innovation.

Keynote speaker Lisa Bernstein, Wilson-Dickinson Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, will discuss innovation and the theory of the firm. Following that, the conference’s first panel, For-Profit Volunteerism and Innovation, explores issues where outside volunteers contribute to innovative outcomes within for-profit environments. This panel will explore the use of informal structures to facilitate innovation. The panel will also analyze the types of systems where volunteers are motivated to participate and, relatedly, will discuss case studies and experiences that others can learn from. Finally, the panel will address academic research that considers the relationship between organizational structure and creativity.

The conference’s second portion then turns to The Accelerator Case Study. The Accelerator is now ten years old. The emergence of the accelerator institution represents the 21st Century’s most important development in the support of startups. In just a decade, the model has scaled internationally, with over 5,000 entities that self-identify as an accelerator. Brad Bernthal, Associate Professor at Colorado Law, will explain the unique organizational features of accelerators. Mentor driven investment accelerators, for example, rely upon a volunteer network of experts who work closely with startups. This raises interesting topics that the second panel will address, including whether volunteer experts are preferable to paid experts, how individuals behave in an informal and volunteer system, and why volunteers give away time and resource to for-profit companies. Moreover, as accelerators become a feature of the startup landscape, how will they change moving forward? Will the current forms of accelerator organization prove sustainable?

Finally, the third panel considers Intellectual Property Challenges and Strategies Amid Informal Organization. Opportunism possibilities loom where formal agreement is absent. Participants could, for example, steal an idea or share confidential information with others. The absence of formal agreement further exposes participants to disputes over intellectual property rights. Informality would seem to be a recipe for leakage of a startup’s insights, intellectual property disputes, and copycat behavior. How do attorneys advise parties who are active in informal environments to balance protection of intellectual property without compromising the benefits of informal contributions to innovation?

Please join us on November 6 for a stimulating discussion about the changing ways that innovation is organized.


  • Brad Bernthal
    Associate Professor, University of Colorado Law School
Keynote: Innovation and the Theory of the Firm
  • Lisa Bernstein
    Wilson-Dickinson Professor of Law, Aaron Director Research Scholar
Panel 1: For-Profit Volunteerism and Innovation
  • Brad Bernthal — Moderator
    Associate Professor, University of Colorado Law School
  • Lisa Bernstein
    Wilson-Dickinson Professor of Law, Aaron Director Research Scholar
  • Phil McKinney
    President and Chief Executive Officer, CableLabs
  • Sue Heilbronner
    Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder, MergeLane
  • Nathan Seidle
    Founder and Chief Executive Officer, SparkFun Electronics

Presentation: The Organizational Structure of Accelerators
  • Brad Bernthal
    Associate Professor, University of Colorado Law School
Panel 2: The Accelerator Case Study

Panel 3: Intellectual Property Challenges and Strategies Amid Informal Organization
  • Phil Weiser — Moderator
    Hatfield Professor of Law, University of Colorado Law School
  • Jason Haislmaier
    Partner, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP
  • Gene J. Bernard
    Partner, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP
  • Robin Evans
    Regional Director, United States Patent and Trademark Office - Rocky Mountain Region
  • Christine Searls
    Senior Associate General Counsel, CenturyLink
  • Keith Berets
    Partner, Cooley, LLP

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