"Innovation is part of Maine's legacy and DNA." So says Adam Burk, executive director of TEDxDirigo, the independent group working to create a local TED conference for Mainers. Through this year's symposium, "Latitudes," Burk and the TEDxDirigo team hope to spread that message. "I think Maine had great branding of our places, our food, our quality of life," he says. "One thing I don't think we do a very good job of in our branding is: Who are the people here and what are they doing?"
(What's TED? Don't be ashamed; we weren't 100-percent sure either. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design; the global conferences launched as idea-sharing sessions among Silicon Valley types in the 1990s and developed into worldwide innovation incubators in the 2000s. The highlights are elite "TED Talks" where speakers are given 18 minutes to present new ideas to an engaged audience.)
This year, TEDxDirigo will bring the idea-party to Portland Stage Company on September 10, with about 15 speakers, including:
• Habib Dagher, offshore wind-energy researcher and director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine;
• Husband-wife puppeteer team John and Carol Farrell, of the Figures of Speech company in Freeport;
• Eli Stefanski, formerly of the Maine Women's Fund and currently leading the Rhode Island-based Business Innovation Factory;
• Rafael Grossman Zamora, a doctor who works to establish virtual care among surgeons and trauma teams ("teletrauma") around Maine.
Burk believes that the TEDx model, which combines sophisticated concepts, diverse passions, and technology, is appealing to young people; to that end, TEDxDirigo is building relationships with the next ideas-generation. Select students from Casco Bay High School and Maine College of Art, as well as some girls involved with the Hardy Girls Healthy Women nonprofit organization, will participate in the conference.
"This is really a special opportunity to be plugged into the world of ideas," says Brunswick native Alexander Petroff, who is a senior TED fellow and founder of Working Villages International, which aims to increase self-sufficiency and economic development in sub-Saharan Africa. Petroff points to one of the unique aspects of a TED conference: "Every single speaker is saying something different about a different topic" — including some which "you'd never had any interest in." But, he adds, the ideas are presented in a dynamic, engaging way that demands attention.
Another unique aspect of the TED experience is that the audience members really want to be there — they must apply, and in the case of TEDxDirigo, pay $100 (some scholarships were available).
TED talks bring to light great ideas. But how often do they lead to action?
"The audience that we're developing have demonstrated the ability to create change," Burk says. But there is "more for us to do," he says, including figuring out "where do we need to partner in order to sustain ideas?"
Do you want to be part of the fun? Applications to attend "Latitudes" are still being accepted. (Selections are based on broad criteria, so audience members represent "a wide range of professions and backgrounds, to ensure a rich and stimulating exchange of ideas.")
In addition, the talks will be posted on YouTube in the weeks after the event. And we'll also get the inside scoop from Phoenix correspondent Mike Miliard, who will be in attendance on September 10.
For more information visit tedxdirigo.com.