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If you love TED talks, get ready for the X in Kalamazoo

Charlie Wolborg

Ken Kousky


TED talks are all about ideas worth spreading. But when it came to putting together the regional version organizers wanted more than good ideas. They wanted ideas that could spur action.

So the slogan for TEDx Kalamazoo is: "Ideas Worth Implementing."

The local event -- set for Oct. 11 at the Fetzer Center on the WMU campus -- started with a Facebook post. Benjamin Davidson suggested on Facebook that Kalamazoo should host a TEDx event. The idea took off from there.

"It was really that simple," says Daniel Proczko, one of the organizers.

A group of 10 people in their late 20s and early 30s, all local entrepreneurs or involved in social media and marketing, came together to make the event a reality. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.

Organizers met for long and passionate discussions on what matters to Kalamazoo and what innovations are waiting to be uncovered here. They came up with what they describe as "action-oriented initiatives to spark passion" and move the community forward.

"We felt that some times TED talks deal with lofty ideas -- a colony on Mars is great. But we wondered how many of them are realistic," Proczko says. "We wanted to hear from people whose ideas have value because they work."

The weekend also is timed to coordinate with the fourth Kalamazoo Startup Weekend. Organizers hope that those participating the next day in education themed 54 hour-event will turn out to hear the ideas being put forward by TEDx speakers. (Update--10.5.12: The fall Startup Weekend has been canceled.)

Some of the speaker's topics will be tied in with the upcoming Startup Weekend during which educators will work with teams throughout the weekend as they look for solutions to education related concerns.

TEDx organizers are excited about all those who have agreed to speak, and one they are particularly pleased to have landed is Dr. William J. Ward, also known as DR4WARD. He's the Social Media Professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and former marketing professor at WMU’s Haworth College of Business.

Ward is ranked one of the Top Marketing Professors in the World on Twitter by Social Media Marketing Magazine for providing useful content and consistently engaging with his followers and truly "getting it" when it comes to the best ways to use Twitter and other forms of social media. He also consults with numerous Fortune 500 companies and has worked on both the client and agency side. His talk will focus on the use of social media in education.

Here are the others who will be speaking at TEDx Kalamazoo:

• Sean Ainsworth, CEO of RetroSense Therapeutics. He has 15 years of experience in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. In 2004 Mr. Ainsworth launched Ainsworth BioConsulting to provide licensing, strategic planning, and business planning services to the life science and entrepreneurial community. Ainsworth’s clients include large pharma, small biotechs, universities, CROs, and venture investment funds. He has worked with clients at all stages of development. His experience ties in with Kalamazoo's roots in innovation in pharmaceuticals and biotech.

• Ken Kousky, a venture capitalist investor and Executive Director of Blue Water Angels, CEO of the MidMichigan Innovation Center. He was invited to share his insights on how to pitch to an investor as organizers looked for those who could bring fresh ideas to the community to build a favorable environment for entrepreneurs.

• Paul Stermer,  executive director of Kalamazoo based Fair Food Matters. He says he will be speaking about “the incredible social change we can bring to all communities through local food, and how that’s an especially powerful proposition here in one of the world’s prime agricultural regions.” Stermer says he is excited to present at TEDx Kalamazoo, adding, “We have such a depth of resources in our community, and TEDx will help us deepen and strengthen our connections with one another.”

• Charlie Wollborg, marketing strategist, creative director, and founding partner of Curve Detroit, is an idea guy with more than 15 years experience as a strategist, designer and writer. He has worked with brand name clients from General Motors to Blue Cross to Boyne Resorts. He dreams of Detroit as the alternative energy capital of the globe -- transforming from the city that drives the world to the city that powers the world. And he sees a day when America doesn't import a drop of oil.

Proczko says the organizing group hopes that this will be the first of ongoing events.

"This first year we will have a 100 person event and maybe next year we will have 1,000 person event," Proczko says. It may not be a TED event, but it will be geared toward encouraging further innovation and new businesses in the community.

"We hope to ignite interest and have a bigger conference next year," Proczko says.

Kathy Jennings is managing editor of Southwest Michigan Second Wave. She is a freelance editor and writer.
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