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Milwaukee's First TEDx Conference Will Feature Local Technology and Arts Gurus

Next week, Milwaukee will host its first TEDx event – TED, standing for technology, entertainment and design. TED conferences are motivational gatherings that have been taking place across the country since 1990, but seem to be growing in popularity, lately.

Their goal is to encourage people to think creatively about solving community problems. A TED event is not your typical community brainstorming session. It’s a production.

“Why is Apple so innovative, year after year after year?”

The theme of this 2010 conference in Washington was - how great leaders inspire action. One speaker talked about Apple Incorporated and its founder, Steve Jobs.

“They’re more innovative than their competition, and yet they’re just a computer company. They have the same access to the same talent, the same agencies, the same consultants, the same media, then why is it that they seem to have something different?”

Organizers of TED conferences invite about a dozen speakers – giving each the theme ahead of time and then 15 minutes to make a thought-provoking presentation. Some lecture; others use props. The audience consists of 100 invited members, representing a cross-section of the targeted community.

The theme of the TEDx event in Milwaukee will be – how to tackle the city’s economic challenges by utilizing Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Music or STEAM. Local organizer Jerome Knapp picked the Harambee neighborhood as the site. He calls the district north of downtown, the perfect location.

“It’s an immensely rich and dynamic, diverse neighborhood. It has everything from on the business side, light manufacturing to commercial services and it always has. It’s been an incredibly vibrant part of Milwaukee but that’s declined in recent years. So, part of the idea of doing the event in Harambee is to recall attention to the area,” Knapp says.

One speaker will be Joe Du Fore, director of digital education at Wisconsin Lutheran College. He told us he’s crafting his presentation around the idea that economic success had different meanings during different eras.

“We used to have a stuff economy where things mattered, and we had the Industrial Revolution. The industry really led and pushed and grew countries and grew communities. Now, it’s the innovation, the creativity, the ability to prosper from concepts that nobody else could have thought of because we have this fast moving, technological world where knowledge is harder to come by than plastic or steel,” Du Fore says.

Du Fore  says he’s a big fan of the TED model and often pulls excerpts off You Tube, to use in the classroom. Students from Milwaukee School of Engineering will be on hand – it’s sponsoring the event. Endowment Fund Chairman David Howell says a couple dozen MSOE students will work the conference and in the process, he hopes, gain a wealth of ideas.

“By working with the TedxHarambee group, we enable our students to meet individuals who want to bring these different disciplines together. Our students are enabled to also bring together their creative talents in terms of defining the scope of a project, figuring out which resources need to be available for this project, all that project management stuff but also the technical aspects as well,” Howell says.

Howell predicts the TED conference will generate a lot of buzz on campus. Organizer Jerome Knapp hopes the event prompts similar gatherings across Milwaukee.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.