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VOL. 125 | NO. 198 | Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ignite Night to Highlight Memphis’ Creative Side

AISLING MAKI | Special to The Daily News

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A self-described “geek” event that’s already swept cities from Helsinki to New York to Sydney makes its Memphis debut at 7 Tuesday evening at Playhouse on the Square.

IgniteMemphis invites pre-registered speakers to sell their idea to a hometown crowd in exactly five minutes. Each speaker is given 20 slides, each shown for just 15 seconds.

The fast-paced event’s slogan: Enlighten us, but make it quick.

Ignite is a collaboration between technology-based business incubator LaunchMemphis and MemphisConnect, the Leadership Academy’s talent recruitment and retention program.

“LaunchMemphis has been looking at it for a year or two and we finally decided to put the wheels in motion with our partners,” said co-founder Eric Mathews.

Leadership Academy director of communications and marketing Elizabeth Lemmonds said she jumped at the opportunity to help bring the event to Memphis.

“Ignite is about Memphians sharing the stage to enlighten, educate, engage and inspire their community,” she said, adding that there will be “something for everyone.”

“I want people to be entertained as well as enlightened. But MemphisConnect shines a light on local creativity and talent; Ignite promises to reinforce just how innovative Memphis truly is.”

Mathews said 25 individuals applied for the 16 speaking slots, with presentation topics ranging from genetics to making mixed tapes to solving the global water crisis.

The first Ignite event, the brainchild of self-described “technology evangelist” Brady Forrest, chair of O’Reilly Media’s technology conferences, took place in Seattle in 2006.

It has since grown into an international phenomenon with roughly 150 cities from London and Los Angeles to Mumbai and Dubai getting in on the action.

San Francisco alone holds four Ignite events each year.

Topics of recent presentations, which can be viewed at igniteshow.com, have included one man’s attempt to iPhone his way to retirement to the chagrin of Apple, a Colorado woman’s insistence on kale’s ability to save the world, and a Portland journalist’s two-week stint living inside a simulated Mars base in the Utah desert.

Mathew Inman, creator of popular webcomic The Oatmeal, gave a presentation at Ignite Seattle this year called “How to Get 5 Million People to Read Your Website.”

Ignite offers a global support system to help any city that wants to get involved, providing organizers with templates, logos and a guide to planning their event.

In a video clip on ignitememphis.com, founder Forrest said he’s “psyched” about IgniteMemphis.

“Really, Ignite lets people share their passions, and each speaker at Ignite follows the same format … and really it gives the chance for an inexperienced speaker to fall back on that format and really convey a great talk,” he said.

“And they know that any talk that goes onstage is only going to be five minutes and that they’re going to have this format. So, even if you’re bored, you can go get a beer.”

Beer will be provided by Memphis’ Ghost River Brewing Co., accompanied by food samples from Memphis startup Carson Rotisseries, an event sponsor.

Also sponsoring Ignite are local DJs The Defective Agency, who will be providing music, and LunaWeb, a Memphis-based web design and consulting company.

LunaWeb CEO and Launch Memphis co-founder Dave Barger said supporting Ignite was a no-brainer for him.

“These events blow the roof off an intellectual ceiling through inspiration. Getting people together and energized is enlightening in itself. These are effectively large-scale, free- flowing brainstorming sessions,” he said.

“Although there may be 16 ideas shared on the Ignite stage, dozens of new ideas will blossom from the event. You can’t only watch the presentations (online) at home and get the same effect. It’s the face-to-face conversations, and often new working relationships, that seed this intellectual harvest.”

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