Detroit — October 3, 2013 at 12:34 pm

TEDxDetroit puts positive stories about Detroit in the spotlight


The conference united more than 700 entrepreneurs, visionaries and activists who believe in Detroit’s future.

If you needed a boost of optimism about where Detroit is headed, you should have been at TEDxDetroit. The one-day conference held October 2 at Cobo Hall’s new Grand Ballroom overlooking the Detroit River wasn’t just sold out. It was overflowing. Overflowing with great ideas — some of them already in place, others in the works — from people dedicated to making Detroit a better place to work and live.

TEDx events are independently organized TED events, now held in cities around the world. This was the fifth TEDxDetroit event, but the first I’d attended. I was not disappointed.

No theme was formally announced, but if there was one for TEDxDetroit 2013, it was finding success in failure. You can say Detroit’s down and out, you can say Detroit’s best days are behind us, but you’d be wrong. Detroit is down but not out. Detroit’s best days are ahead of us. And nearly every presenter during the conference shared insight into overcoming failure — or fear — to discover something even better.

Ishita Gupta, creator of Fear.Less magazine, talked about telling people’s stories about fear to conquer her own, never imagining it would turn into a successful publication.

You want to have a big life. Pay attention to moments of defeat. Alchemize them into opportunity and innovation. — Ishita Gupta

Indirectly, Jacques Panis did exactly that by creating Shinola in response to the dearth of manufacturing jobs in a city rich with craftspeople and skilled manufacturers. His company’s watches, bikes and other products are now highly sought-after — and he’s bringing new manufacturing jobs to Detroit.

Manufacturing may have left this country but the people didn’t. — Jacques Panis

Or consider Garret Koehler and Kevin Krease of Assemble Detroit. They turned their unsuccessful bid to host the ESPN XGames in Detroit into a new event coming next summer.

We heard from the established entrepreneurs and citizen organizers who are building businesses and rebuilding our cities. Like Jackie Victor of Avalon International Breads, which pays most of its employees $12 per hour, with full benefits. Or John George of Motor City Blight Busters, which unites volunteers to help stabilize and revitalize Detroit neighborhoods.

Then there were the young people. Students who are part of the InsideOut Literary Arts Project sharing their poems and stories about life, and hope, in Detroit. Asia Newson, aka Super Business Girl, a 10-year-old kidpreneur who hopes to be mayor someday.

It was a day full of positive stories — of people sharing ideas for changing the narrative of Detroit, of finding the good and making it better, of turning failure into a new opportunity.

TEDxDetroit ran a livestream of the event, and videos will be posted soon. I’ll also be reporting in more detail on some of the inspiring, invigorating stories I heard from people who are actively engaged in creating a positive future for Detroit.

Because, in the words of TED and TEDx, these are ideas worth spreading.

[Photos: Amy Lynn Smith]