One of the signs of a thriving community full of techies, creatives, and entrepreneurs is the presence of an Ignite event. We’ve got them in Toronto, and now that I’ve moved to Tampa, I was pleased to see that “The Other Bay Area” holds them too. Ignite Tampa Bay 2014, the fourth to be held so far, took place last Thursday in Tampa’s factories-turned-nightlife district, Ybor City, in the Cuban Club’s beautiful historic building, whose exterior is pictured above.
The Ignite format’s motto is “Enlighten us, but make it quick!” It takes your standard speaker-and-audience formula and adds some interesting constraints:
- Each speaker is limited to exactly 5 minutes for his or her presentation.
- Each presentation is accompanies by 20 slides, no more, no less.
- The speaker has no control over when the slides advance; they automatically advance every 15 seconds.
This format forces speakers to get to their point quickly, and even experience speakers stumble on their first attempt.
The simultaneous best and worst thing about Ignite events is that you don’t have to be a big name to end up onstage. You have to have knowledge of and passion for the topic that you’re presenting, and this opens the stage to people who otherwise wouldn’t get a chance to share their ideas with an audience. This more open format seems to encourage more mixing and meeting during the breaks before, during, and after the presentations, which is why I say that Ignite is an indicator of a thriving community. It also means that you’re more likely to see people flop onstage every now and again. For many people, both speakers and audience, last Thursday’s Ignite was their first one, and that newness gave the event a little extra charge.
The T-shirt of the evening
There’s always a t-shirt at Ignite gatherings that amuses me; my favourite T-shirt of the evening was this one:
Ignite Tampa Bay 2014 kicked off with opening remarks by Chris Krimitsos, who did a fine job setting the stage for the evening’s event. It’s customary to perform a little local boosterism at the start of an Ignite event, and in Tampa’s case, here are the encouraging tidbits of information that Chris provided:
- 80% of businesses in Tampa are made up of 20 people or fewer.
- The Tampa Bay area is undergoing an influx of 1,000 net new people every day.
- So many people are moving to Florida that by July of this year, it will overtake New York as the 3rd most populous state in the union.
Florida’s undergoing a lot of change, and we have to be ready for it. Poking fun a people’s fondness for the status quo, he quipped “the only person who really invites change is a baby in a wet diaper”.
Be the voice for a child – Catherin Gregory
Catherin Gregory opened with her talk about her experiences at GAL — that’s Guardian ad Litem, where “ad litem” is Latin for “for the suit” — a group of court-appointed volunteers who advocate for the best interests of a children who’ve been has been abused, neglected, or abandoned, the majority of whom have been removed from their homes and placed with relatives or foster parents.
Figuring it out backwards – Jessica Bellman
Jessica Bellman’s piece was titled Figuring it out backwards, and focused on the benefits of doing things “backwards” — that is, in the opposite direction of what’s “natural”. An example she cited for projects was instead of planning forward from a start date, work backwards from the due date. Sometimes, in order to solve a problem, you need to turn it upside down.
Entrepreneurial depression – Jonathan Malkin
Entrepreneurs project confidence, said Jonathan Malkin, but they’re prone to depression like the rest of us. I myself know some people who gone into business for themselves, who in Malkin’s words, are “killing it in public, but struggling with depression in private.” He interviewed a number of entrepreneurs about their struggle with depression, including Denver-based entrepreneur Brad Feld (whom I saw speak in Toronto in late 2012), and says that having people in your life, whether friends, family, or mental health professionals, is probably the best medicine.
Brutal honesty and its rewards – Roy Stegman
Roy Stegman works in a recording studio, and he says that being brutally honest is an asset in his job. He learned that value having gone through boot camp during his stint in the military, and from that he experience, he learned the value of harsh feedback (and yes, he brought up R. Lee Ermey’s role as the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket). “Tact is commendable, but should we commend mediocrity?” he asked.
In keeping with the spirit of his message, it must be noted that while his presentation started off strong, he lost his way about half-way through the presentation and stumbled his way to the conclusion. In my time at Microsoft, I cut presenters who did a better job than he did.
The importance of youth education and engagement in civics – Katie Douglas
The very bright and enthusiastic Katie Douglas told us recent surveys of youth showed that many didn’t know that the United States was originally made up of 13 colonies and thought that the US gained independence from France. Even I, who grew up on Canadian history lessons rather than American ones, know better. She said that this lack of knowledge comes over-involvement in the trivial and a lack of involvement in civics. Her presentation received a big round of applause.
Be here now – Mical Johnson
Mical Johnson calls the time when he had to help his wife give birth to their son on the side of the road in their car as “the moment that changed everything” for him. There was no medical assistance — or any assistance — around. He credits his “being there” — focused on the task and nothing else — for a successful delivery, and used that story to explain the power of focus and being in the moment.
Women in leadership – Past, present, and future – Jessica Rivelli
Jessica Rivelli’s presentation was a laundry list of women leaders from whom today’s women can draw inspiration:
- Victoria Woodhull
- Coco Chanel
- Eleanor Roosevelt
- Margaret Thatcher
- Rachel Carson
- Gloria Steinem
- Princess Diana
- Benazhir Bhutto
- Martha Stewart
- Oprah Winfrey
- Sheryl Sandberg
- Arianna Huffington
- Brené Brown
- Jennifer Newsom
- Debbie Sterling
- Julia Bluhm
- Marian Bechtel
- Malala Yousafzai
Buspreneurship has its privileges – Greg Ross-Munro
It’s not really an Ignite until someone brings the expletives, and the biggest source of them was Greg Ross-Munro in his presentation, Buspreneurship has its privileges. Greg talked about his experience on Startup Bus, the event in which people pile on a bus for a days-long trip, come up with an idea for an application, and build both the application and the business around it, while on the bus. If you can build software in cramped, smelly, moving quarters, you can do anything, he suggested. The limited time and resources on the bus make focus necessary; he said that Startup Bus’ “inflexibility is the energy” that helps its participants get things done. Although he initially said “There’s no fucking way I’m doing that again” at the end of his first Startup Bus experience in 2011, he did it again, and just came from the first Startup Bus in Africa.
Female voices breaking into podcasting – Katie Krimitsos
Katie Krimitsos started the Business Women Rock! podcast a mere 14 weeks prior to her presentation, and at three podcasts a week, she’s already past 40 episodes, 28,000 listeners (12% of whom are outside the U.S.), and 14,000 followers for the podcasts’s Facebook page. In her presentation, she talked about the power of podcasting and encouraged people to try it. I’m going to have to give Business Women Rock! a listen.
Lessons from an American Ninja Warrior – Sean Morris
Of the speakers at Ignite Tampa, the best-known was probably Sean Morris, whom you may have seen if you watch American Ninja Warrior. He’s appeared on the show in four different seasons, and went to the Mount Midoriyama finals twice. He literally competed to the beat of his own drummer, as he always wore headphones. He says that having his own music made the event less stressful:
His presentation, naturally, was about being on American Ninja Warrior — and the lessons he learned from doing so. Many people who train to be on Ninja Warrior train for specific obstacles on the show; some even build replicas of the obstacles to train on. Sean prefers to do general training and focus on skills that will serve him well, such as balance, strength, endurance, and so on. That way, he’s well prepared even if the course designers come up with new obstacles.
His other advice includes being aware of your habits (and modifying them if necessary), and making sure that if you have to do something repeatedly, make it fun. He also says that your real competition is you: rather than ask if you’re better than someone else, what you should be asking is “Am I better than I was a week ago?”
He closed his presentation and the first half of speakers by performing some balance tricks on a wire rig that he brought:
I am More – Lindsey Nickel
Lindsey Nickel’s presentation, I am More, covered a program to help adolescent girls develop self-respect, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens, she said, and a lot of it is driven through the messages we send them, through daily interactions and the media. Happiness come from doing good and caring about people, and the I am More program teaches young girls to be more than a number of the scale or on someone’s arbitrary 1 – 10 beauty scale. The program has shown success with over 1,000 teenagers, who showed a drop in self-deprecating behaviour and greater confidence.
“Let’s move from a nation of Kardashians to a nation of Thatchers!” she closed, to applause.
Get small: The big rewards of indie film, theatre, music and books – Ned Averill-Snell
Ned Averill-Snell started his presentation with a story about a friend who’d moved to Tampa from Philadelphia and after a year of living here, was complaining that there was nothing to do in this city. He was surprised because…
…the arts are more popular than Tampa Bay than sports. It’s just that the really interesting stuff is the small stuff — the local indie live theatre, music, art galleries, and so on, and he’s right. I have been here that long, and there are gems that you can find here in “The Other Bay Area” — pick up a copy of the Tampa Bay edition of alt-weekly Creative Loafing to get a taste. I’ll be blogging about this stuff regularly.
Active vulnerability – Aubrey Goodman
Vulnerability and weakness are not the same thing, argued Aubrey Goodman, who came up with my favourite definition of the evening. He defined rich as “having the ability to be generous without hesitation,” which was my favourite definition of the evening. It got a lot of applause.
One story – Rachel Mallett
Losing one’s mother at a young age can be traumatic, but Rachel Mallett seems to have come through the experience in fine form. She says she owes a lot of it to Girls Incorporated of Sarasota, a non-profit that inspires girls to be strong, smart, and bold by giving them extracurricular education and leadership opportunities in various field, including entrepreneurship and finance, and science/technology/engineering. She considers Girls Inc. to be “a blessing that came out of the darkness”, and credits her well-being to having strong support systems like Girls Inc. and her church.
The power of NO – Jonathan Cordeau
Jonathan Cordeau spent the last ten years as an entrepreneur and the better part of the last six months in Silicon Valley. He says that the most important lesson he learned is how to say “NO”. It’s not about being negative, but knowing where to draw the line, be selective, and focus your time and energy towards your goals, in the same way that Apple says it says “a thousand ‘no’s’ for every ‘yes'”. “‘No’ also makes you value ‘yes’ more,” he says.
How my 12 year old is teaching me to be awesome – Virginia Barnett
Virginia Barnett is a mom and a new small business owner. Inspired by her 12 year-old, who told her to stop talking about it and do something instead, she started Gr8Code, a coding and technology camp for kids that’s starting this June.
Fostering entrepreneurship – Ashok Kartham
Ashok Kartham is the president of TiE Tampa, a non-profit group made up of local entrepreneurs whose goal is to foster entrepreneurship in Tampa through mentoring, networking, and education. He’s got a lot of ideas, including one I really like: borrowing some NASA appeal and branding Florida as the next go-to place to launch your big idea. He suggests that Florida’s quality of life — beaches, warm weather, no state personal income tax, and its attractions, make it an excellent place to live, work and play:
…and since Tampa’s still fresh from the success of having IIFA (“The Indian Oscars”) being held here, he had to throw in a quick Bollywood dance number into his presentation:
Hacker culture and the hardware startup – Bill Shaw
Bill Shaw of Tampa Hackerspace had to make it clear that while “hacker” is often used in the mainstream to refer to people who maliciously attack computer systems, the true definition is that a hacker is someone who learns by doing. Hackers both break and make things to learn. He talked about hacker culture, why we need it, and “the wonderful things that happen when you put a techie and a creative together in the same room.”
Challenge accepted – Mark Lombardi-Nelson
Mark Lombardi-Nelson apologized in advance for all the memes he was going to show us in his five minutes. Even the title of his presentation was a meme: Challenge accepted.
In his presentation, he talked about giving himself a new challenge every month. “They teach you,” he said of his self-imposed challenges, many of which — including a become a vegan for a month — weren’t all that fun and often earned mockery from his friends. He wasn’t deterred, though: “It’s great when someone calls you crazy,” he said.
His current challenge: to make a handwritten thank-you card for someone to whom he owes gratitude, every day of this month.
Out of the Ashes – Paola Chamorro Ward
The final Ignite presentation of the evening was delivered by Paola Chamorro Ward, who was born and grew up in Colombia. When she and her husband were dating, he said that what he knew about Colombia were its exports: “Coffee, drugs, Shakira, and Sofia Vergara”. She talked about the Colombian people’s determination to change their country’s image, highlighting the fact that it’s the second most biodiverse country in the world, as well as the happiest, and the home of an impressive culture and cuisine.
Colombia is finding its way out of the darkness, she says, and perhaps we can borrow some of their tricks.
Call it the anti-TED Talks. Ignite Tampa Bay is not a forum for gurus, mavens, wonks, tastemakers and billionaires. It’s about real people spewing unvarnished truth as they see it.
The second annual Ignite took place Thursday night at the Cuban Club in Ybor City. Twenty speakers. Five-minute speeches. Twenty slides per.
An estimated audience of 350 filled up most of the historic theater. No sitting on your hands at this to-do. The crowd effusively applauded all the orators, some of whom were more deserving than others.
Up on stage, it wasn’t always pretty. You could hear the dry mouth, picture the flop sweat, wince when ideas drifted or a speech went off the rails. But you also nodded at something you never thought of before, laughed at a well-timed quip. Mostly you admired their courage just to get up there.
It may not have always been pretty, but it was engaging from start to finish, and I’m glad to see people doing more than just sitting passively in front of a screen and actually getting involved in their community. We’ll have to see how many people take up the challenge that the organizers left at the very end of the event: to perform one unselfish act for someone in the community every week.
I’m glad that I attended Ignite Tampa Bay 2014, and I’ll happily throw my hat in the ring for the 2015 event.