tedxcle: inspiration turned into action

Every major city has a brand -- a distinctive, commonly-held identity that serves to define it for the global masses. For decades, Cleveland’s brand has been that of an old, post-industrial city struggling to redefine itself in a new, mobile and high-tech economy.

Yet Hallie Bram Kogelschatz, co-founder of TEDxCLE and Studio Business Manager with the marketing agency Adcom Communications, believes that may be changing. She’s noticed a critical shift in recent years in the way Clevelanders think of themselves and their city, as well as how we’re often labeled by outsiders. 

“When we started TEDxCLE three years ago, I think there was a much more cynical tone about being a Clevelander,” says Kogelschatz, who created the event with her husband, Eric Kogelschatz, after they boomeranged back to Cleveland from Boston. “Yet people were so hungry for good ideas. Events like TEDxCLE are changing how people feel about Cleveland and rebranding the city.”

That’s a lofty goal to be sure, yet the proof is in the pudding. The three-year-old event, which takes place Friday, April 20th, has generated a lot of buzz. This year, its founders moved the event to a larger venue to accommodate demand -- Gartner Auditorium at the Cleveland Museum of Art -- yet all 700 tickets still sold in just 39 minutes. (The demand even caused CMA’s server to momentarily crash.)

TED, which stands for “Technology, Entertainment and Design,” is a nonprofit organization founded in California in 1984 that espouses “ideas worth spreading.” Northeast Ohio’s version of the event, fueled by the Kogelschatzes’ infectious enthusiasm, has become a kind of signature gathering for CLE creative types.

As TEDxCLE has caught on, says Kogelschatz, it has inspired people to take action while spurring new collaborations and projects. “It’s about inspiration turned into action,” she says. “The idea for the new downtown store Dredgers Union came out of Danielle DeBoe and Sean Bilovecky speaking together at TEDxCLE two years ago.”

The theme for this year’s show is “The Maker Class,” and 13 unique presentations -- including two musical performances -- will highlight not only Cleveland’s creative class, but also the “doers” making a positive impact within their local communities.

Kogelshatz says the momentum behind the event shows no signs of stopping. “Eric and I are happy to share our passion with an audience of 700 people and bring them along.”

Fresh Water caught up with three of this year’s presenters to get a preview of the dynamic, 15-minute talks they’ll share with this year’s sold-out crowd. 

Tom Benson, Aerospace Engineer, NASA Glenn Research Center

Sit next to Tom Benson on an airplane and you’re bound to learn something. The NASA Glenn engineer has spent 35 years studying computational fluid dynamics, and can explain to you how airplanes create shock waves when they travel at high speeds.

Benson’s TEDxCLE talk will address the intersection between creativity and new ideas. Creativity is not something arrived at easily, he says, but only after one has mastered one’s subject area. Moreover, it is often met with resistance when first introduced.

“Creative people are usually masters of their own form, and when they recognize what’s wrong with the form, they come up with a new idea that breaks it,” he says. “They also have to have the perseverance to hang in there against resistance to new ideas.”

As an example, Benson cites his own experiences at NASA Glenn, which is one of only four research centers in the U.S. where engineers get paid to come up with new ideas. Thirty years ago, he observed his son playing a video game; he was soon inspired to begin using computers to help transform the field of computational fluid dynamics.

The new idea was met with resistance by Benson’s superiors, yet fortunately, his immediate boss was supportive. Since then, computational fluid dynamics has changed completely, and the techniques that Benson helped to pioneer have been turned into software that is now widely available for industrial and business use.

Benson wishes that more Clevelanders were aware of the unique innovation taking place at NASA Glenn and how it is fueling our regional economy. He is deeply engaged in efforts to educate young people about the importance of science.

“Education and outreach are part of my job. I’m very willing to share my knowledge with students to encourage them to become the next generation of scientists and engineers.”

Justin Bibb, Special Assistant, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald

Who better than an energetic, passionate, 25-year-old boomerang to advocate for the wishes and needs of young professionals in Northeast Ohio?

No doubt, this was the thought that ran through Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald’s mind when he tapped Justin Bibb as his Special Assistant. Before coming back to Cleveland, Bibb, who graduated from American University in Washington D.C., worked as Associate Partner and Director of Community Strategies for Gallup. 

Within the past year, Bibb has played a critical role in helping to launch the Next Generation Council, a group that aims to stem brain drain by giving young people a voice in helping the county attract and retain young talent. His work has earned him the unofficial title: “Young Professional and Talent Attraction Czar.”

Despite now being a political insider, Bibb doesn’t pull any punches when he describes Northeast Ohio’s dated approach to involving young professionals in civic leadership. “Access is a really big issue. It’s hard for us to get taken seriously, hard to get heard. There’s a ‘wait your turn’ mentality that permeates leadership in this region.”

When young people don’t have a seat at the decision-making table, it creates an economic ripple effect throughout Northeast Ohio. “Civic engagement helps attract people to place,” says Bibb, whose TEDxCLE talk is entitled “Civic Engagement and the Next Evolution of Cities.” He adds, “It’s critical to vibrant economic development.”

He's now working to create a public policy program at the county level for top graduate students. “We want to attract the brightest minds to work in government for a summer. Our goal is to attract policy entrepreneurs and ensure their ideas are implemented.”

Bibb also cites the recent coalescence of numerous young professional groups into a single entity called Engage Cleveland as a positive sign that YP’s have now won a seat at the table.

“We need to be more risk-oriented in all levels of community change,” he says.

Philip Niles, Graduate Student, Case Western Reserve University

Despite widespread fears that data used by big corporations could erode individual liberties, open data can help transform and improve people’s lives, argues Philip Niles, who is pursuing his M.D. and M.B.A at Case Western Reserve University.

He became convinced of this while working for ORBIS International, a nonprofit organization that provides free eye care to Third World countries. Several years ago, Niles traveled with ORBIS on a DC 1010 plane that had been transformed into an eye clinic by removing the seats to create an operating room.

“It’s as awesome and cool as it sounds,” says the enthusiastic 26-year-old, who moved from Buffalo to Cleveland to attend Case. “They took everything behind the front rows and made it an operating room, recovery room and tech room to record surgeries. We went to the Philippines and other places to teach new techniques to local doctors.”

What Niles learned during that trip was that medical supplies aren’t the major barrier to improving care in poor countries -- it’s access to information and education. “Supplies can be donated, but to get training, there has to be someone to train you.”

Niles was further moved to action when he arrived home in University Circle and started volunteering at a local elementary school. “Here you have some of the poorest people living next to some of the richest people. I thought, How can I take the riches of one area and extend them to another area lacking resources?"

That brings us back to open data, the subject of Niles’ provocative TED talk. Sharing information openly can lead to greater medical access for impoverished individuals, helping to reduce disparity at home and abroad.

Niles, who will begin his ophthalmology residency at the University of Iowa in 2013, is now creating a website that will open up critical data about his field to a wider audience. His long-term aim is to share the research found in older studies with new audiences to help doctors and researchers identify new ways to help people. 

“In the past, we were consumers of information,” he says. “Now we’re really becoming contributors. The use of technology makes people more powerful and able to do this.” The ability to complete research has a lot to do with the quality of care in other countries, he says, so opening up data could help to improve medical care.

Although Niles, who was also a national TED fellow in 2009, relishes the opportunity to share his ideas with the city he’s come to love, he also wants others to participate.

“I think a lot of people in Cleveland have a TED talk in them,” he says. “That’s one of the most exciting things about TEDxCLE. The audience really belongs on stage.”

- Image 1: Tom Benson, Aerospace Engineer, NASA Glenn Research Center
- Image 2: Justin Bibb, Special Assistant, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald - Photo Bob Perkoski
- Image 3: Philip Niles, Graduate Student, Case Western Reserve University
- Image 4: Hallie Bram and Eric Kogelschatz co-founders of TEDxCLE - Photo Bob Perkoski

Read more articles by Lee Chilcote.

Lee Chilcote is the author of the poetry chapbooks The Shape of Home and How to Live in Ruins. His writing has been published by Vanity Fair, Next City, Belt and many literary journals as well as in The Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook, The Cleveland Anthology and A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts from a Segregated City. He is a founder and former executive director of Literary Cleveland. He lives in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood of Cleveland with his family.
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