The IDEA Conference in New York has become something of a household name ala TED talks and the like. This year, Advertising Age and Crain’s teamed up to produce one in Detroit. The results couldn’t have been any better. A powerhouse lineup of speakers discussed the relationship between their ideas and success, and to top it off, five Detroiters submitted their ideas for the city and were awarded with recognition at the event and a $1,500 check to move it forward.
First, the speakers. Eric Ryan, founder of Method Soap says “Don’t start a business, start a cause.” His soap company makes household cleaners and hand soaps that are non-toxic, something very different from other company’s products. They use their innovative role in the industry to begin phasing out the harmful chemicals that currently exist in other products. David Morrow, founder of Warrior Sports, headquartered in Warren, says “Have the courage to follow your passion and just do it.” His company, now a $100 million enterprise, started as a father/son effort to just make David’s lacrosse team’s sticks. Pretty cool. Josh Linker, of ePrize fame and most recently the force behind Detroit Venture Partners, took the stage with a storm. His message: “Be creative.” Linkner says we learn to follow the directions instead of using our imaginations. But then, interestingly enough, our imaginations are what get rewarded in business and the workplace. So, awaken your curiousity he says, bring on the everyday creativity and break down the imaginative barriers that stall success.
These three gentleman aside, easily one of the most impressive speakers of the day was Veronika Scott, a Product Design student at CCS responsible for the Empowerment Plan. Her school project to design a coat that keeps the homeless warm and then doubles as a sleeping bag at night has turned in to a global sensation, with media outlets all over the world covering her work (see one of the coats here). The Empowerment Plan is the portion of her efforts where she pays local people a living wage to produce the jackets. The results? Three employees at this point, one that is now able to pay rent on a house and give her daughter proper childcare while simultaneously feeling immensely invested in a great cause. Very, very inspiring work.
To top it all off, one of the five user-submitted ideas awarded throughout the course of the day is a program titled “Do it in Detroit” that I have been developing with Travis Wright of Metro Times fame. Our goal? Facing the fact that 48% of Michigan’s college students leave the state, we want to hit schools in the state and region with an achingly hip multimedia presentation discussing the opportunities that exist in Detroit for young entrepreneurs, artists and urban planners. Right now, young people are getting the wrong story about the city, and sure, while this place may not be for everyone, it presents an intoxicating blend of opportunities for the right self-started, ambitious people. Detroit is a city for builders, and we want to get on the road to tell that story. It’s happening. Sooner than you think. Stay tuned.