When Hallie Bram and Eric Kogelschatz launched TEDxCLE, a new annual forum that gathers the region’s big thinkers to share “ideas worth spreading,” they had no idea how fast — or far — their message would travel.
As organizers, Bram and Kogelschatz were thrilled when last year’s inaugural event, held in Gordon Square’s refurbished Capitol Theatre, sold out fast, even prompting “ticket wanted” postings on Craigslist.
Then, a week before the event, Forbes magazine named Cleveland “the most miserable city in the U.S.” While many residents griped about what they deemed an unfair portrayal of their city, Bram and Kogelschatz decided to do something about it.
“We knew a reporter from Forbes, so we reached out to him,” says Bram, Studio Business Manager at AdCom in downtown Cleveland.
The bold move worked, with the magazine dispatching a reporter to cover TEDxCLE. The resulting article’s headline had a decidedly different — and more positive — take on our city’s disposition: “Green Tech, Green Jobs: The New Face of Cleveland.”
This is precisely what TEDxCLE seeks to accomplish, says Bram. “We want to change the perceptions of people that live here as well as people outside the region, and share the positive, innovative ideas and success stories coming out of Cleveland.”
TED is a New York-based, international nonprofit whose mission is to spread innovative ideas in the areas of “technology, entertainment and design.” Founded in 1984, TED now hosts conferences in 80 countries.
Bram and Kogelschatz have again teamed up to host TEDxCLE, which takes place April 15th at the Capitol Theatre. If you’re interested in scoring tickets, however, you’re out of luck — the event sold out faster than a Justin Bieber concert. “There’s a real hunger for events like this,” says Bram.
This year’s speakers include David Franklin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, who will explain “why museums still matter”; Chris Clark of Sunflower Solutions will explain why “electricity is a basic right”; and Ted Howard of the Cleveland Foundation, who will discuss the Evergreen Cooperatives as a model for community wealth-building.
Also on tap are the weighty topics of historic preservation, community building and urban education. “Many young professionals are asking themselves, ‘Can I stay in the city and raise my kids here?'” explains Bram. “So we invited John Zitzner, founder of E-Prep and Village Prep schools, to talk about creating high-quality urban schools.”
Matt Hlavin, President of Thogus, a custom plastic mold company based in Avon Lake, is thrilled to participate in this year’s event. “It offers a fresh approach to what’s going on with the future of our economy,” says Hlavin, whose company has become known as a regional leader in advanced manufacturing.
If last year is any indication, this year’s conference will not only help spread word of Cleveland’s innovations, it also will build connections amongst speakers and attendees. “Afterwards, people told us it was one of the best networking events of the year,” says Bram. As evidence, Bram cites the example of Room Service’s Danielle DeBoe teaming up with Sean Bilovecky of Wrath Arcane clothing to open a retail store on East Fourth Street.
Bram and Kogelschatz came up with the idea of launching TEDxCLE shortly after relocating in 2009 from Boston to Cleveland’s Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood. “We realized that there are so many amazing things happening here,” explains Bram, “but many people just don’t know about them.”
Before they could host a TEDxCLE event, however, the pair had to apply to become curators, a process that took about two months. TED has become a trusted brand in large part because event organizers adhere to strict guidelines.
What sets TEDxCLE apart from other events, argues Bram, is the rigorous selection of speakers. “We received over 200 nominations through our open nominations, and then spent months narrowing that group down to our final list.”
TEDxCLE speakers are asked to share original stories about what personally motivates them. They are coached to avoid canned speeches and product pitches. “We want to inspire people to build a more creative, passionate life,” says Bram.
Despite the fact that Cleveland’s revitalization tends to be a well-kept secret — too well, some say — Bram says she is overwhelmed by the support TEDxCLE receives. “People are really tired of the negative narrative about our city, and they want to change it,” she says. “I find that our community really supports creative thinkers.”
Kogelschatz, a Detroit native, shares Bram’s passion for Rust Belt renewal. Less than a year after he followed her to Cleveland (and one week after the initial TEDxCLE), he lured Bram back to the Capitol Theatre under false pretenses. Upon entering the main theatre, he popped the question. She said yes, and the couple is now in the process of planning a wedding — a piece of cake, no doubt, compared to organizing TEDxCLE.
Bram says she’s glad she moved back to Cleveland, a place she believes offers more opportunity to young creatives than many larger cities. “You can feel ownership of what you’re doing here,” she says. “People go to established cities to dwell, but if you want to create something, there’s no better place to be.”
Fresh Water Cleveland, 3/31/11