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VOL. 126 | NO. 99 | Friday, May 20, 2011

‘Innovation Conference’ Comes to U of M

By Aisling Maki

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The University of Memphis Saturday will host some of the city’s most dynamic, innovative dreamers, thinkers and doers during TEDx Memphis 2011.

The day-long event will take place from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the FedEx Institute of Technology’s Fogelman Executive Center, 330 Deloach St.

Now in its second year, the independently organized event offers Memphians a unique hometown experience based on the global conference model of TED, a nonprofit devoted to ideas worth spreading.

“What someone can expect is to expand their mind a little bit and get exposed to some concepts they might not otherwise hear,” said TEDx Memphis founder and organizer Walter White, who recently retired as director of operations and public safety at Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority. “The beauty of it is that seemingly unrelated topics and events may actually spur some ideas and concepts within your own field that you’d never considered before. I think of it as an innovation conference. It’s entertaining, but it’s also an incubator for new ideas and concepts.”

TED conferences, which started 25 years ago in California, invite the world’s leading thinkers and doers to deliver their unique message to an audience in 18 minutes.

“It’s about sharing ideas, and what we tend to do in our day-to-day life is to stay around people who are like-minded or in our industries,” White said. “TED is an acronym for technology, entertainment and design, but back in the ’80s when TED was founded, all these fields started to merge with the advent of computers, and over time the conferences became so successful that they really incorporated all disciplines.”

TED speakers have included everyone from billionaire entrepreneurs Bill Gates and Sir Richard Branson to primatologist Jane Goodall and writer Elizabeth Gilbert.

TED talks, invitation-only events with a high ticket price, have in recent years gained popularity with people around the world through TED.com, where the talks are posted.

Although independently organized, Saturday’s TEDx Memphis event is operated under license from TED and will show videos from some of its conferences.

“We’re subject to certain restrictions from TED because they don’t want to dilute their larger conference,” White said. “The way I tell people is it’s like the Cardinals and the Redbirds.”

The event is open to the public, but limited to just 100 individuals, and White said he expects TEDx Memphis to sell out.

He said the event will feature “excellent speakers and some really outstanding presentations.”

White said he found the speakers through word of mouth, asking people if they knew of compelling speakers passionate about their subject matter.

White discovered speaker Ned Canty when Canty delivered a presentation at Ignite the Night Memphis, another locally organized idea-sharing event that’s part of a larger movement, where speakers are given five minutes to compel their audience.

“He’s got a really unique and charismatic style about him,” White said about Canty, a stage director with company credits that include the Wolf Trap Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Santa Fe Opera and New York City Opera.

Canty on Saturday will deliver a presentation titled “Opera Doesn’t Suck.”

The event’s youngest speaker is Ismael Rashad Coleman, who will graduate Saturday morning from high school and then head to TEDx to deliver his presentation.

Coleman, 17, is a slam poet and hip hop artist from Memphis who launched his own performing arts program. He has won two poetry slams and this summer will compete in Brave New Voices, an international poetry slam sponsored by Russell Simmons that will air on HBO this fall.

Dr. Rhonda Perciavalle, who has conducted cancer research at St. Jude, will give a presentation titled “How Your Lifestyle Can Change Your Genes.”

Other presenters include local business strategy coach and leadership expert Michael Synk, Mid-South IT entrepreneur Michael Drake, and Memphis civic leader and adventurer John Thompson, who has spent a great deal of time in the South Pacific searching for Amelia Earhart’s aircraft.

The event will also feature performances from musicians such as Deering and Down and emerging Memphis artist Katrice Mayo.

For more information regarding speakers or to purchase tickets, visit www.tedxmemphis.com.

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