On a sunny, crisp October Friday, 177 people gathered to discuss social change, innovation and creativity at the 2012 INspire Conference at the University of Michigan-Flint.

Truly, creative people have found a home in Flint. We saw the effects of their creativity in the businesses and non-profits they have started and sustained.

For instance, Jessica Sloan talked about PT HEART, the free physical therapy clinic run by UM-Flint physical therapy students, which serves hundreds of low-income people at the North End Soup Kitchen. Carrie Miller presented Our Home Transitional, which helps returning women veterans transition into civilian life. Eric Knific talked about Epic Technology Solutions, LLC, which creates software for social causes. His company designed the software for the Double Up Food Program at the Flint Farmers Market, that provides an incentive for low-income people to eat more locally grown fresh produce.

They are all students associated with the Innovation Incubator [IN]. At the conference they were able to rub elbows with social entrepreneurs and innovators from the region and across the country.

Dr. Bruce Barringer of Oklahoma State University, who authored the bible of entrepreneurship, spoke about “the nuts and bolts of starting a business” to a packed session. He generously provided an online link to his upcoming book The First 100 Days of Your Business at http://entrepreneurship.okstate.edu/enews/launching-a-business

After hearing him speak, one student said, “Thank you for putting these conferences on. Nowhere else that I have been has an organization like [IN].”

Glen Fayolle wowed the participants of the Design Innovation session with his mapping method of exploring creative problem-solving. One participant said, “Very interesting and creative presentation! I will use it when analyzing issues, increasing free-thinking and escaping conformity.” Another wrote, “Unexpected and great!” Another, simply, Love, love, love.” Several have requested that we bring Glen back for a longer session.

Another speaker we hope will return is Tom Root, who said to the packed Kiva, “it doesn’t have to be people at the expense of profit!” He presented the model for Maker Works in Ann Arbor, which he created to be like a lending library for people who make things. It matches tools and equipment with creators, students, and unemployed people. The model values individuals’ time, expertise and other resources. You can learn more about this pioneering business at http://maker-works.com.

That was just a few of the social innovators who shared their expertise with our community of learners. Watch for more opportunities and big ideas at the Innovation Incubator in fall 2012 and winter 2013!