I was lucky enough to attend TEDxDetroit with my teammates Nikki Little and Tom Nixon this past Wednesday. After a day full of tales of out-of-the-box thinking and entrepreneurial success, I wanted to share with you three presentations that I just can’t get off my mind.
My hope is that, after reading this, you too will be inspired to tackle an idea and watch it grow into something beautiful. An idea is always at the epicenter of entrepreneurial success. It’s whether we choose to act on it and surround ourselves with smart people with a common goal that we can really begin to make a difference.
Veronika Scott – The Empowerment Plan
This woman is 22 years old. She followed all the “right” steps. She went to school, attended college and was preparing to get a job in the industry of her dreams. Then she was assigned a school project that led her to create what would become the Element S coat, a self-heated waterproof coat designed for the homeless that turns into a sleeping bag at night.
The coat is part of the larger nonprofit that Veronika has now created called The Empowerment Plan, which aims to break the cycle of poverty by reaching out to those on the streets and creating careers for people in shelters. Right now, the Element S coats are produced by a group of women who were originally staying at a shelter, but were then paid to learn to produce these coats for people on the streets.
During her presentation, Veronika reminisced on the moment she knew that her college education would lead her to a new kind of future. “There I was, a 22 year-old with a homeless woman staring at me asking about health insurance and benefits for her and her three children [after being employed by me to make the coats].”
It was then that she realized that she had the power to impact people’s lives. That woman, her first employee, has now left the shelter, rents an apartment and has learned a craft that now allows her to maintain a steady income.
If that isn’t a path to humanitarian and entrepreneurial success, then I don’t know what is.
David Leider – Gas Station TV
David Leider is the CEO of Gas Station TV and also happened to be the last presenter. Truthfully, at this point, I was starting to nod off, exhausted by the excitement of the day. I was thinking, “What could this guy talk about that was something I haven’t heard today?”
He talked about innovation and pursuing your passions. I think my biggest takeaway from him was this: If you’re doing something you don’t like, stop and do something else.
This philosophy has definitely worked for him. His Birmingham business now has more than 27 Nielsen-audited viewers per month…and that’s more than all of their competitors combined.
But why? Who would’ve thought that placing a screen above a gas pump would add flare to an already saturated medium? But it has. Thinking outside of the box has completely transformed the petty task of getting gas into one of personalized entertainment.
Gas Station TV has partnerships with big cable networks to bring consumers the information they’re looking for at just the point when their attention is most captive. I mean, what would you rather do? Take in the sights and sounds of traffic on-the-go or forget that you have to take time out of your day to do so?
David let us know that, with a team of approximately 60 professionals, their next goal is to see that each pump that leaves the manufacturer is equipped with a built-in screen. Now that’s innovation!
Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences – “Detroit State of Mind”
After a full day of talks, performances, food, networking and idea exchange, the perfect culmination to the event was a breathtaking performance by the Detroit Academy of Arts & Sciences. This group of 50 or so students bounced on stage to a choreographed version of “Detroit State of Mind,” a Detroit version of Alicia Keys’ huge hit “Empire State of Mind.” Touching on all of the things that make Detroit unique and special, the kids sang and danced to a beautiful rendition of the song. There were rap and song soloists, bursts of applause and whistles of support from the audience, the entire time the kids feeding off of the energy and beaming with pride for their city.
To be honest, I actually got really emotional while watching the performance. I sat there and thought to myself – why are we all at TEDx? Why is what we’re doing now so important? I looked at those kids and saw their future, the future and the opportunities that we are now laying for them. As we continue to advance technology, business and the arts, we are creating for them the foundation for continued innovation and success. The fire was in their eyes – they want more for themselves, each other and the city of Detroit. And I, for one, am happy that I can say that I support the cause.
“Detroit State of Mind”