I am a big fan of finding inspiration in the non-library sector. Whether it’s the merchandising techniques of book stores or this idea, which I picked up from an old high school friend who now lives in Kentucky.
Jason D’Mello is a an entrepreneur and educator in Louisville, Kentucky, and in 2011 he helped create Idea Mornings, a TED-ish style monthly event to stimulate ideas and discussion before normal business hours.
Recently, I asked Jason to share the back story of this totally awesome program idea with the Library Lost & Found audience. Here is what he had to say:
I moved to Louisville in July of 2010 to start a PhD program at UofL’s College of Business. The focus of my study has been in entrepreneurship, especially social innovation. While exploring Louisville, I discovered that it was the host to an annual event, 10 years in the running, called Idea Festival. Similar to TED, this conference brought speakers from all around the world to share ideas, but included a powerful Q&A session that elevated the discussion. It seemed to be a shame that such a dialogue only happened once a year, and as a result, Idea Mornings was born.
Several PhD students and I started planning how we could bring creative people together early in the morning to carry on the spirit of the festival each month. We launched in September 2011 in a brand new coffee shop called Please and Thank You, in the NuLu district of Louisville. Our monthly event started at 7:30am, with free food and coffee, and was an open invitation to the city to attend. The event was set up so that it would replicate the traditional salon, no powerpoints, just a room full of people gathered around a person with an idea to make Louisville better. Our stage is very portable, it is simply a directors chair that says “IDEATOR.”
The first speaker was Ari Cowan who inspired Louisville to sign our own charter for compassion as a city and join his international network of “compassionate cities” proposed in a TED talk a few years prior. Other early speakers included JK McKnight, founder of the Forecastle Music, Arts, Activism Festival that was recently acquired by Bonnaroo’s company. He spoke on his foundation that aims to protect the few remaining biodiversity hotspots around the world. Heather Howell, C ‘Tea’ O of Rooibee Red Tea spoke about the important issue of a lack of diversity on corporate governance boards, and shared how she was helping getting more women into such positions. We’ve had a judge speak about an innovative restorative justice approach to keep youth out of juvenile courts, city planners propose much needed public transportation plans, and other leaders discuss how we need to “re-think” our education system.
The first year of events at our little coffee shop were very well attended, so much so that we out grew the space. Also my friend and co-founder moved, and I was alone in running the event. With the event temporarily homeless and a lack of a team, I had the good fortune of finding George Parker Jr and his team at Parker Lane LLC. George stepped in as a collaborative partner and technology support that allowed us to film and document each event professionally. He also offered his office, which moved the event to the rooftop of a LEED certified building in NuLu with a beautiful view of the city skyline. A few weeks later, I met an incredible artist named Sloan Showalter who came on board and has since surprised each of our speakers with a live painting portrait, now a tradition. We also received a generous sponsorship by Heine Brothers Coffee, a great local company in Louisville that continues to support entrepreneurs and local businesses.
We ended our rooftop series in September by hosting an official Idea Festival event that brought together a panel of organizational leaders who share an interest in bringing the community together around innovation. This was one of my favorite events because it allowed us to be a part of the event that was the initial inspiration for Idea Mornings. We had a tent up that day for the Nulu street festival (Nulufest). In it was a giant board that Sloan painted with our logo, a stack of cards and markers, and a hammer and nail. People who walked by wrote their ideas for making the city better and then got to nail the card to the board.
The winter was spent in the new entrepreneurship co-working space called the i-Hub. These events were extremely well attended, with some hosting over 100 people at our early hour. Aaron Marshall, founder of the popular app Over gave a great talk on how he used Lean Startup methods to grow his company to over 1 million users and a top 10 app on iTunes. Other topics ranged from bringing an NBA team to Louisville, a movement that has been a huge issue since, to sharing the story of a cancer survivor who started a nonprofit called Hopescarves, that send scarves of other survivors for support to women who are battling cancer around the country.
This year Idea Mornings is taking on a new challenge rather than expanding to other cities, we decided to go on the road and explore neighborhoods within the city. We traveled to a hackerspace in Smoketown called LVL1 to talk about 3D printing with Chris Cprek, Catholic Charities in Portland Historical Neighborhood with Dr. Bais who founded an incredible refugee program called the Survivor Clinic, and last month to Churchill Downs to discuss starting a niche business in a down economy.
Next month I’ve invited a speaker who founded a creative nonprofit called We’re Cool….in response to Mike Jeffries (Abercrombie CEO) controversial statements about who they want to wear their clothes, a Louisvillian named Richard Hudgins stood up and decided to take action by organizing clothing drives of used Abercrombie clothes and giving them to homeless kids in the city. He has some big ideas to help battle bullying.
The Summer and Fall for 2013 are already booked, and we keep getting referrals for new speakers to fill the “tourdates” on our calendar. Last month, someone from my hometown approached me to discuss starting an Idea Mornings chapter in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which made me incredibly proud of where this event is going. We will continue to keep the organization small, grassroots, free and inclusive, while seeking creative ways to help spread ideas.
For the longer, un-edited version of this post, click here. Jason has some really wonderful stories and examples, well worth worth the length, but in the interest of the blog format had to be edited down. Thank you so much for sharing, Jason!