TED comes to Chico

Popular ideas conferences get local treatment

ChicoBags founder Andy Keller relates his transition from “bag monster” to green entrepreneur at TEDxChico.

ChicoBags founder Andy Keller relates his transition from “bag monster” to green entrepreneur at TEDxChico.

Photo By Ken Smith

A drumming preacher, talking bacteria and a bag monster-turned-entrepreneur provided “wow” moments for the 100 attendees of the inaugural TEDxChico event last Thursday (Oct. 18) at Sierra Nevada’s Big Room.

TEDxChico is a local extension of the popular TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conferences held each spring in Long Beach. While official TED events are overseen by a nonprofit Sapling Foundation (which then posts them online as “TED Talks”), the “x” in TEDx is meant to designate that they are independently organized in the spirit, and adhere to certain rules, established by TED.

Chico’s event—dubbed “Dreamers. Thinkers. Doers.”—was organized by a steering committee of 10 volunteers, including Mayor Ann Schwab and Butte County Supervisor Maureen Kirk. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., 10 people (eight live and two videotaped) gave 18-minute-or-less presentations of “ideas worth spreading,” which is TED’s motto.

According to steering committee member JoAna Brooks, 44 speakers applied and gave six-minute auditions, and selected speakers have a chance to be tapped for larger TED events.

“My vision is that, by the year 2020, TEDxChico has more speakers selected for TEDLongBeach than any other city of similar size,” said Matt York, another TEDxChico organizer.

Among those who made the Big Room stage was Greg Cootsona, an associate pastor at Bidwell Presbyterian Church, whose offering was titled, “The Right Rhythm of Yesses and Nos.” With the assistance of a drum kit, he explained how a health scare led him to reevaluate the positives and negatives of technology in modern life, urging him to find balance between the spiritual and scientific.

Andy Keller, creator and owner of ChicoBags, emerged in a costume made of 500 plastic bags, the average amount used by each American annually, and explained the impact of a 2004 trip to a landfill.

“What really stood out to me were all the plastic bags. They were blowing around; they were actually taking flight and flying around with the birds and jumping the fence and escaping, like little monsters. That’s when I realized I was a bag monster.”

Keller, who was unemployed at the time, said he designed the first ChicoBag—a reusable bag capable of being carried in his pocket—to break his bag habit, then realized he could help other people do the same and make a career out of it.

Two videos from national TED conferences were shown, including one called “How Bacteria Talk” by molecular biologist Bonnie Bassler. Bassler explained that she and a team of researchers at Princeton University discovered how bacteria communicate, or “talk,” by secreting particular proteins.

Bassler and her team discovered bacteria secrete enzymes that enable intra-species communication and another enzyme recognized by other types of bacteria, and how this discovery could lead to new antibiotics.

Other presenters included Cindy Wolff speaking about nutrition, Glynda-Lee Hoffmann on the topic of how people learn, and Brian Pierce, who with his company Advanced Light Technologies is pioneering new laser and light-based cancer treatments. Local singer/ songwriter David Zink performed two songs.

Inspire School of Arts and Sciences student Jessica Shipley’s unscheduled, short appearance onstage gave testament to the cross-generational appeal of TED talks. She explained Inspire offers a Tuesday-afternoon enrichment class in which students select, watch, research and discuss videos.

“It was amazing, the whole composition of different people, artists, speakers and ideas was really incredible,” Cootsona said as the show wrapped up with a no host bar. “I can’t wait for next year, if I can get in.”

Cootsana was referring to the TED-imposed limit of 100 attendees at TEDx events like Chico’s. As more than 100 people were willing to pay the $50 price of admission, attendees were selected by lottery. Organizers of TEDxChico are currently looking for new volunteers to help steer the next event.

Videos of TEDxChico presentations will be available at www.tedxchico.com starting Oct. 26.