The Inc. 500 Conference has officially begun - let the drinking begin. Water that is. It's a dry air out here in the Arizona desert.

For the 26th year in a row, Inc. has lured the country's top entrepreneurs to an exotic locale with the promise of taking home a much-coveted Inc. 500 award. This year, more than 800 of us have gathered in Tucson, home of Inc. 500 conference host Westin La Paloma and one of the steepest and slickest water slides you can find this side of Orlando or L.A.

Entrepreneurs always seem to be cut from a different cloth than most folks and when you bring the best of the best together at once, you can feel the big ideas literally pinging through the air. But this is far more than just a networking event – it's also our chance to interact with some serious business brainpower both on the stage and in our breakout sessions.

This morning, Leigh Steinberg -- super agent and inspiration for the movie Jerry Maguire -- kicked off the festivities by sharing his secrets to successful negotiation. Score one for the Inc. art staff, which talked Steinberg into posing with a live alligator for our how-to issue last year. Steinberg admits that negotiating is like tap-dancing on the edge of an abyss, a concept more than a few of us who have teed off into the canyons of the Paloma's golf course know something about.

Master networker Keith Ferrazzi of Ferrazzi Greenlight followed Steinberg on the main stage and shared some tips on making friends with more than just a business card. Ferrazzi's best tip for maximizing your friend-making time here in Tucson: adopt his "7-P" approach: proper prior preparation prevents piss-poor performance. Ping him at to find out exactly what that entails.

After Ferrazzi's animated chat, we all adjourned to participate in a series of info-packed sessions designed to let our entrepreneurs get some answers to their biggest headaches --like health care, marketing, and even how to fold yourself into the lotus position. (Yoga is good for your bottom line.) The Paloma even fed us some tasty victuals to fuel our afternoon trip back to the main stage -- and I'm not sure how far upstream that salmon had to swim to make it to my plate. The afternoon's breakout sessions covered serial entrepreneurship and capital gaps, but I spent my time taking in the mountain view as former PGA pro Richard Brasser talked about how to grow your business beyond the 19th hole.

The afternoon's two speakers closed our day in style. Bo Peabody -- self-described entrepreneur, venture capitalist and author -- mused about how important it is for business owners to be smart enough to know how lucky they are. Today's keynote speaker, Ted Fishman -- author of the New York Times bestseller China Inc., followed him on the main stage. Fishman used his time on stage to sound an economic alarm with tales of China's prolific manufacturers that promise to wipe out the global market with the help of cheap labor, government subsidies and their ability to make knockoffs of everything from DVD players to Jeep Cherokees. If you weren't scared before as an entrepreneur, you should be now.

More to come tomorrow -- we're riding off into the sunset tonight at the Wild Horse Ranch with an evening of campfires and two-stepping under the stars. Yippie Kay Yay!