Inaugural TEDx Youngstown to focus on innovation

By Denise Dick


It’s the first of its kind in the Mahoning Valley — a gathering of thinkers and doers who want to spread innovation.

TEDx Youngstown runs all day Friday at Youngstown State University’s Williamson College of Business and features speakers from varied fields and all walks of life. TED — Technology, Entertainment and Design — started in the 1980s and continues as a series of conferences around the world. The ‘x’ means the event is independently organized.

It’s a “forum for people to come together and make great things happen in a community, the nation and the world, to incite things, to begin conversations around the ideas and ultimately to motivate action,” said Lorilyn Shandor, curator of TEDx Youngstown.

TEDx events must be licensed by the TED organization and meet and follow its criteria. The organizing committee was given 35 pages of rules to follow to ensure the event maintains the TED ideals and offers a TED-like experience, Shandor said.

Attendance was limited to 100 by organization rules, and tickets are sold out. But attendees aren’t just business people and technology nerds.

“It’s all over the board,” Shandor said. “We have everyone from recent college graduates to retirees, every profession, every gender, every race. That’s one of the cool things about it is the diversity.”

Jeff Hoffman, founder of and a serial entrepreneur, is one of the 18 conference speakers.

Unlike a traditional business conference, though, you won’t see company names and organization titles next to the names of speakers. Instead adjectives, hobbies, aspirations and familial roles like “connector,” “personal developer” and “world’s greatest dad” describe them.

Between sessions, attendees are encouraged to discuss what they heard and dig into the topics, Shandor said.

One of the speakers, Tony DeAscentis, describes himself as an “innovator, gadget geek, outdoor enthusiast” in the program. The title of his talk is “The skill most innovators never think about.”

DeAscentis, who was involved in the launch of Turning Technologies and has now developed via680, wouldn’t divulge what that skill is until his talk.

Via680, which refers to how to reach the company, by following Interstate 680, has developed Ving, “a leading edge message technology system designed for people to send more important messages through as an alternative to email,” he said.

Ving allows the user to send multimedia messages across various platforms and ensure that they’re read, understood and acted upon, DeAscentis said.

When one of the organizers of TEDx Youngstown called and asked him to participate, he didn’t hesitate.

“When I found out it was here in Youngstown and at YSU, I said yes, it’s a no-brainer,” DeAscentis said. “This is such an exciting thing for Youngstown and the downtown area. TED talks and TED events are known globally and to have it downtown is a phenomenal opportunity. And I love innovation and technology.”

Innovation is the theme for the event, which Shandor said she hopes becomes an annual affair.

She said conference attendees will be asked to sit next to someone they don’t know and rather than asking others, “What do you do?” ask, “What’s your idea worth spreading?” which is the thrust of TED.

An eight-member committee organized TEDx in less than a year; its planning started last April.

Bob McGovern, a TEDx Youngstown committee member, got involved through Mahoning Valley Young Professionals of which Shandor also is a member.

“I’m pretty familiar with TED talks from watching them online,” he said. “I’ve watched a lot of talks and I’ve learned through them.”

With happenings in Youngstown from the Youngstown Business Incubator and America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, now is a good time to launch a TEDx event particularly with an innovation theme, McGovern said.

Though attendance is limited, people can watch the live stream through the website, The Boardman and Poland branches of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County also are hosting viewing parties. Also, all of the speakers will be videotaped and the audio recorded. The video will be uploaded to the TED YouTube channel, and plans call for the audio to become a local version of the NPR TED Radio Hour and heard on WYSU-FM Radio.

“One of the goals is to show how far we’ve come,” McGovern said.

“I don’t think that 10 or 15 years ago, you would even have been able to put on an event like this in Youngstown and have it be as well received as it now. We have a thriving downtown that people go to with innovation going on. It’s a showcase for innovation in Youngstown and Northeast Ohio.”

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