Innovation may have been the overused word of the day, but there’s no doubt the TEDxGrandRapids speakers who visited Grand Rapids to share their stories are leaders in their respective fields.
TEDxGrandRapids did a stellar job of inspiring the hundreds of city residents who gathered downtown at the Civic Theatre to listen to the 14 speakers — 10 men and four women — from varied walks of life talk about their passions and the actions they’ve taken to lead change.
How scarcity drives innovation
The day began with speaker Simone Ahuja who introduced the Indian concept of “jugaad” to Grand Rapids. Ahuja explained jugaad is akin to the do-it-yourself culture here.
She provided two powerful examples of how scarcity can lead to innovation.
The first was the story of a man who set out to develop a refrigeration system that would keep food cold for several days without electricity. In some areas of India, electricity is not consistent so the man utilized clay — an abundant natural resource — to develop mini-refrigerators that can keep food fresh for up to five days if power isn’t available. The invention has led to jobs for women in the community, who are the primary makers of the product.
The second example was the Embrace Baby Warmer, which was developed to serve as a replacement for the traditional baby incubator — a staple in hospitals in developed areas but too expensive for many underdeveloped locations. The warmer, which is like a sleeping bag, works similarly to an incubator.
To come up with these ideas, both inventors were challenged by scarcity and had to figure out what resources were available and how to utilize what they had to solve challenges in their communities.
“Scarcity reframed is abundance,” Ahuja explained.
It’s been proven time after time that often the greatest inventions come out of a need and a lack of resources. Ahuja showed how the concept of scarcity leading to innovation remains a core principal of entrepreneurship, and how it can change lives.
First failure, then success
Metro Health Hospital’s Dr. J.A. Mustapha has many titles: board-certified interventional cardiologist, director of Cardiac Catheterization Laboratories, director of endovascular interventions and director of cardiovascular research. However, his most important title might be “go getter.”
Mustapha shared his story of growing up in war-ravaged Lebanon until the age of 15, when he came to the United States by himself with nothing more than $80 and a couple pairs of blue jeans.
“I picked up my books and moved on,” Mustapha said of how he got through witnessing death and destruction in his youth. “My only option was success.”
Once in the United States and settled in Detroit, life didn’t get much easier for Mustapha, who was eventually joined by his older brother. Both worked hard, with hopes of becoming a nuclear physicist (Mustapha) and a doctor (his brother). When his brother was shot and killed, Mustapha decided to give up his dream of becoming a nuclear physicist and set out to fulfill his brother’s dream of becoming a doctor.
“I statistically had no chance for success,” he said.
He has since become not only a doctor but also an inventor, holding multiple medical device patents for devices he developed out of need and with the goal of lowering the amputation rate, and therefore death rate, for people with peripheral artery disease.
“I’m no longer a day dreamer. I go get it,” Mustapha said.
He noted that one of the important lessons he’s absorbed is that failure can be the beginning of the journey to success.
“It is good to fail. … I believe if you’ve never failed, you’ve never tried.”
The new face of innovation
Tim Rowe shared a slideshow of garages during his TED Talk — but not just anyone’s garages: the garages that begat Disney, Hewlett-Packard and Apple.
These are the former faces of innovation, said Rowe, the founder and CEO of Cambridge Innovation Center. Today, proximity is a key factor in collaboration and new ideas. The closer the proximity, the more likely collaboration will occur, according to Rowe.
Successful startups tend to happen in the same geographical place. Rowe called these areas “innovation clusters,” noting the ability to overcome obstacles, the availability of resources and other common factors that are at the core of why one area becomes an innovation cluster and another doesn’t.
Startup founders are typically good communicators, listeners and storytellers, he said, and they simply need the right mix of support to move their idea forward.
Let them eat art
Nicole Caruth has developed an interesting concept: “Let them eat art.” The founder of nonprofit With Food in Mind, Caruth works at the crossroads of food, visual culture and social change, and kids are the beneficiaries of her idea of combining these three things.
She hopes the combination will influence healthy eating choices while providing students with an arts education in locations that need these things most.
In the United States, nearly 40 percent of African-American and Hispanic communities are overweight or obese, placing them at greater risk for heart disease, cancer and diabetes. At the same time, Caruth said, national data repeatedly has shown that the children most afflicted by obesity are also those who suffer disproportionally from cuts to K–12 public school arts education.
Research also shows that arts education is closely linked to social and emotional development, academic achievement, civic engagement and equitable opportunity.
By providing hands-on education about food and arts, Caruth hopes to create healthier communities with better futures.
Impacting the community
Attendees of the TEDxGrandRapids conference repeatedly remarked on how inspirational and impactful the talks were. Now, with the third TEDxGrandRapids conference come and gone, it is still to be seen if this year’s “Tag you’re it” theme has inspired attendees to move forward with their own ideas to change the world, or at least their small segment of it.
Other speakers were Lucy Bernholz, Jose Bright, Eric Daigh, Luis De La Fuente, Greg Galle, Fred Keller, Gurjit Lalli, Rick Leach and Lori Schneider.
In the video below, Evan Grae Davis talks about his documentary, "It's a Girl," and the growing problem of gendercide occurring in places of the world, such as India and China.
All of the TEDxGrandRapids talks will be made available online in the future.