TEDxPortland2017: A Spectrum of Big Ideas

April 26, 2017 • 7 min read
Guest Author

I attended the TEDxPortland event held last weekend with a group of entrepreneurs who were invited to attend by Townsquared. The event included an eclectic mix of business, art, creative, and social leaders all under the theme of Spectrum.

A spectrum of ideas that spark imagination.

A spectrum of stories that both engaged and inspired the audience.

A spectrum of creative talent that showed how connected the worlds of art and business really are.

But the there was also an alternate theme and concept that came through during the talks; one of being true to who you are and to think big. That theme ran parallel to spectrum, and in many ways, the insights found in the talks and under that alternate theme provide great insights to business owners and the community alike.

The event kicked off with a talk from Luis Vargas, Chief Brand Officer & President, Travel at Leftlane Sports. His focus was around the idea that how we live our lives should not be based on the stuff we can accumulate, but rather how we invest in experiences. He emphasized that only 35% of Americans have a passport and less than 10% of those people every leave the continent. Much of this lack of travel stems from a combination of work getting in the way, the costs associated with travel and also the innate fear that many people have about foreign places.

But Luis pointed out that much of this is based on a belief that making money is valued higher than experiences, and that making a living and making a life many times point in opposite directions. This is a belief that can be readily seen in the business world today, especially from those building and running the businesses. Luis’ talk was all about exploration and how experiences can create another level of wealth, outside of just monetary rewards. Capturing a picture in a remote park or spending time on a hike with your family should be valued as highly as making a few more sales. There is only so much time in life, and to constantly focus on one end goal may, in the end, prevent you from experiencing the very life you wanted to actually create by starting a business.

Dr. Dave Sanders is the founder of ZOOM+, a healthcare company looking to disrupt an industry that is ripe for disrupting. He started with an interesting analogy to what that are doing at ZOOM+ by bringing up the legacy of McDonalds. In the early 1950’s, McDonalds pioneered the concept of affordability, consistency and accessibility which enabled the company to scale.
Medicine in Dr. Sanders’ mind is like pre-1950 thinking, that is, it has pre-scale syndrome.

There is a need to think big, and not be afraid of tackling something as cumbersome as the US healthcare system. Because no matter how big it seems, the solution really comes down to that McDonalds analogy, going straight to the end user. And that user right now is using a system where unlike anything else, they are willing to pay for without actually seeing a price tag beforehand. In order to scale healthcare there will be a need to scale up a social network of patients in order to compress the time between you and your health care, whereby giving you radical access and control of your healthcare. It’s all about focusing on the needs of the customer.

Benjamin Dehen — Artaiz is part of a company that follows that true family business path, the Dehen Knitting Company. The company is 100 years old, and even in a culture of on demand lifestyle, still holds true beliefs around passion and craft. Each of their sweaters has over 8 miles of yarn and are built to last and be passed down.

But Benjamin added in points that extend outside of the notions of just making a good product. They have built a company on the belief that we are welcoming to all comers. A sense that creating a strong company culture is more than just ping pong tables. It’s about creating an institution of inclusion. A notion that you can achieve prosperity through hard work and that someone’s race, religion and class does not determine their wealth. He sees this as something that Portland can intertwine into its pitch to the world. A place where the term sanctuary city goes beyond the idea of safety and scales family businesses based on the idea of institutions of inclusion.
The event then moved into talks about water, timber, and motorcycles. Yes, a seemingly random group, but they were all tied together around the think big theme.

Marla Smith-Nilson, founder of Water1st International, discussed a topic that has huge ramifications from both a business and social perspective — water systems in the developing world. Currently, 30–50% of the water systems in the developing world fail as they are not designed to meet the needs of the users. This results in low customer satisfaction, low usage and far too many times, in replacement. Her big idea is around the simple, but hugely valuable role that monitoring can play. With 3rd party reporting that has oversight and accountability built in we can double the impact of water systems around the world.

Thor Drake of See See Motor Cafe dropped some truth around a business owner’s way of thinking and emphasized that if you follow typical methods you’ll end up with typical results. He built everything he’s done around certain philosophies, which can only be described via the visuals he presented at TEDxPortland.
the thor method
Oh, and Thor added drinking some beers if you are in a rut or need creative juice, as it will change the way you see things — sound advice.

Ben Kaiser, founder of the Kaiser Group was at TED to talk about big ideas and big buildings. He is focused on growing the construction industry and architectural design around wood framed buildings that utilize cross laminated timber (CLT) in their construction. Oregon, given its abundance of great doug fir trees, has the opportunity to redefine a region and stimulate economic growth in rural parts of the state, while utilizing a more sustainable method of building. Timber framed buildings are lighter, more energy efficient and seismically sound. It’s a way of thinking that follows the belief that a tree lives only half it’s life standing up, and the other half as a nurse for other forest life to grow on. Thinking big here is around creating the story upon which to build momentum for this way of building that can bring economic impact to the state while being in the end, more sustainable than current concrete and rebar methods.
s the last session of the day began, it was anchored by two passionate promoters and supporters of the entrepreneurial ecosystem; Stephen Green, Portland City Manager for Townsquared and Emma McIlroy, Founder/CEO of Wildfang.

Stephen focused on the small businesses that make up the tapestry of our city and economy. The vast majority of the businesses in Portland and Oregon in general are categorized as small — it’s who we are. In fact his biggest deal when working in finance was not a multi-million dollar loan, but rather a $20K loan that he had to hustle to get for a client, but that the client then parlayed into growing a very successful and prosperous business.Thinking small many times pays off big. It’s also about not looking at the headlines that label Portland as ‘America’s whitest city’ and thinking there is nothing that can be done, but rather organizing in small steps a community around a shared vision to launch an event called Pitch Black. An event that was built around just the Portland community, and is now spreading to other cities.

That idea of small steps that spread to big things continued as Stephen explained his concept around Cheat More. He emphasized and pointed out the large impact that buying local can have not only on those businesses, but the community as a whole and how if in our lives we decided to skip (cheat!) a bit more by choosing to buy from a local maker/business as opposed to a national chain, those ripples can have a huge effect on your local community.
Emma started her talk by taking us back to her 7 year old self. A time when your imagination runs free and you look at the world with a ‘yeah,maybe’ attitude. An attitude that allows you to believe anything is possible and that there are no boundaries. But as life takes hold and we get into our business life, we tend to pick up a ‘yeah, right’ approach. We fall into a rut of only living in the real world, and as a result, we get bad at living in our imaginations and end up equating being right to being successful.

Emma founded Wildfang from a total yeah, maybe approach. They saw a need to create a line of women’s clothing that is not defined as only one thing, because women (and really none of us) are only one thing, so why can’t a women’s graphic t-shirt be, well, graphic? They have grown it into a leading fashion brand. But Emma still holds true to some core principles like channeling your inner child as a way to spur creativity and possibilities, while most importantly, surround yourself with yeah,maybe people. Allow the possibilities and even failures create a unique path for you and your business.

This post appears courtesy of Mitch Daugherty, a Partner at morange design. Cofounder of Built Oregon. and Past Board Chair of OEN. This post originally featured on Medium.

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