TEDxTampaBay: What's Next For Thought Leaders

There was no lack of ideas, talent, inspiration or insight at the second annual TEDxTampaBay event held Friday, April 22, at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg.
"I've been tweeting all day and crying, it's just been so amazing -- there is no other event quite like it,'' says Jessica Barrett, a 20-something innovation strategist and former co-founder of a Web development company. Barrett was among about 150 people who came to the Dali to listen to a day-long series of diverse, thought-provoking talks.
From a presentation by Xiaomei Jiang, a University of South Florida physicist who is developing solar window technology that generates electricity, to Bryan Roberts, the inspiration behind Roosevelt 2.0 in Ybor City and the Florida Mother Earthship Project, the event was filled with one mind-expanding talk after another.
As Venus Jones, a poet and one of the TEDxTampaBay presenters, summed up so perfectly: "Dali would be happy to have all these innovators here in this place!''
And that after all is the beauty of TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design), a nonprofit created in 1984 as a platform to bring people together to "share ideas worth spreading.''

Not familiar with TED?  Go to www.ted.com for an amazing collection of "mini'' talks by scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, musicians, writers and social activists from around the world.

A few years ago, TED began licensing its brand, allowing small independently organized offshoots, the TEDx events, to spring up around the country with a goal of sparking discussion at the community level.

TEDx is about creating connections, empowering people and encouraging the right climate for fresh, creative ideas, say the event organizers: Arlen Bensen, a former arts professional turned librarian; Gina Clifford, an emerging technology strategist; Peter Kageyama, author of "For the Love of Cities''; and Nathan Schwagler, a business consultant and creative-in-residence/faculty instructor at USF St. Petersburg.  

"It may sound corny, but I see the goal of TEDx to give people hope -- hope that we can make a difference, that our higher ideas can be realized,'' says Kageyama, who was also one of the presenters. "By organizing events like this, we are showcasing examples of excellence with people who have a great story tell that inspires and challenges us.''

Finding Inspiration From Others

What were some of those big ideas shared at the St. Petersburg conference?  

    •     Vineet Sigal, a Stanford University student, took time off from school to volunteer at a free clinic in Galveston, TX, where he saw a pattern of chronic, preventable disease. When a patient he counseled turned her life around, he enrolled a team of student volunteers to help him create a database with health education information in several languages, a project that led him to launch Anjna Patient Education, a nonprofit organization that now offers educational resources to some 2,000 free clinics around the country.
    •     Nadine Smith, director of Equality Florida, is tackling legal and civic issues confronting the gay and lesbian community, such as the Refuse to Lie campaign, in which same-sex married couples are taking a stand by refusing to file as a single individual and instead filing a joint IRS federal tax return this year.

    •     Iranian musicians Saeid Nadjafi and Shayan Amini, former members of The Plastic Wave, whose music is banned in Iran because the lead singer is a woman, are touring the U.S. and continuing to perform despite the danger it might bring to themselves or their families.  Asked why, the two said simply, "This is not about government or religion. We just love music. This is our life."
Other speakers included poets Venus Jones, and Pedro Jarquin; Ken Cowart, organizer of Pecha Kucha Tampa; Robert Fogarty, creator of the Dear New Orleans and Dear World Project; Anthony Flint, of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy; artist Taylor Pilote, and musicians Emily Roff, Stephen Fee, Jeremy Powell, Jon Shea, Adam Volpe and Josh Formanek.
"The talks today reached right down to your core; they're been very empowering," says Donna Silveira, president of Novare Library Services, a business she launched three months ago with Chad Mairn, a librarian and adjunct professor at St. Petersburg College.
As Kara McGinnis, a USF Tampa student in public health and anthropology, points out, "it isn't always easy to find inspiration and these talks are a great way to find it.  

"What's really amazing is that this is a grassroots effort that mobilizes us to connect to the world. Who knows what someone will hear that will inspire him or her to develop the next brilliant idea.''

Thinking Big, Aiming High

There's no doubt the crowd was wowed.
For BJ Price, a revenue management marketing expert for Walt Disney Co. in Orlando, the day was all about "bringing together creative people for an interesting exchange of ideas."

Price attended the 2009 TED conference in Long Beach, CA, where she won a scholarship to Singularity University, a nine-week program sponsored by Google and NASA to encourage people to solve various world challenges through the use of technology.  

Since then, she's been "looking for a way to continue that sense of community of ideas.''

St. Petersburg College student Benjamin Seasy took the day off from his job as a supervisor at the Doubletree Hotel in Tampa in order to attend.  He came to "learn new ideas'' and to find inspiration for his goal to make a difference in his community.''

And for Su Stevens, director of service learning at Shorecrest Preparatory School, it was validation of Tampa Bay as a center of creativity. "I've always believed there were pockets of gems of creative people in town and this is living proof,'' says Stevens.
To date, TEDxTampaBay has been an annual one, but Kageyama predicts that as more people learn about it and the popularity grows, more TEDx events will likely be held throughout the region.  

"It's a wonderful excuse to bring people together, to educate and inspire them, and then turn them loose. These are the people who will change things. These are the big dreamers with the big ideas.''

Wait and see. And stay tuned to TEDx number three, returning next year to Tampa Bay.
Janan Talafer is a freelance writer based in St. Petersburg, FL, who loves spending time listening to the amazing TED talks online. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

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Janan Talafer enjoys writing for a diverse group of clients, including print and online publications, nonprofit organizations and public relations agencies. One of the highlights of her writing career was flying with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa FL for a feature about this elite military team. A journalism graduate of Bowling Green State University (OH), Janan’s early career was in health care marketing and public relations for hospitals in Connecticut and Tampa Bay. She is an avid gardener, loves East Coast swing dance and enjoys touring around St. Petersburg on the back of her husband’s scooter.