TED Wants Michigan To Get Crazy

4/11/11

Michigan got a little crazy last week.

TEDxUofM didn’t have same star power as the annual conference in California that inspired it. But the message was undeniably similar.

“Don’t get scared by the fact that [when] something is tough, crazy ideas are worth working on,” Thomas Zurbuchen, the founding director of University of Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship, told 1,700 students, faculty and local residents packed into Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI Friday.

Zurbuchen is a professor in space science and aerospace engineering who helped develop a device for NASA to orbit Mercury. He was one of 20 speakers on Friday, including Ann Marie Sastri, CEO of battery startup Sakti3, and Jacob Mandel, a student hoping to start a 3-D film lab in Detroit.

Founded in 1984, TED is a non-profit organization that recruits heavyweights in technology, entertainment, and design to brainstorm ways to better the world. The TED annual conference in Long Beach, CA has drawn luminaries like former Vice President Al Gore, filmmaker/writer JJ Abrams, U2 frontman Bono and Virgin Airlines founder Richard Branson.

Though independently organized by U-M students, Friday’s event in Ann Arbor was part of a larger movement of TED talks sweeping the country.

Alex O’Dell, TEDxUofM’s executive director, said organizers came up with the conference’s “encouraging crazy ideas” theme after reading an article by U-M President Mary Sue Coleman published last year in Forbes magazine. In her piece, Coleman discussed innovation on campus beyond the business and engineering schools.

“We kind of took that as a call to action of displaying these ideas and putting them out there,” O’Dell says. “I think the audience really gained a better appreciation for ideas coming out of corners of campus that aren’t really recognized.”

Libraries are rarely known for innovation, but U-M library dean Paul Courant says libraries were first created to provide reference information to scientists developing new technologies.

“Libraries are essential to technology, entertainment, design, learning, mixing, remixing putting things together, taking things apart,” says Courant, who’s working with Google to digitize the university’s vast collection of books and documents. “Libraries are the great social mash-up bins for everything we try to do with ideas individually and collectively.”

He says new technologies like e-readers could potentially open … Next Page »

Jillian Berman is an intern for Xconomy Detroit. Follow @

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