TEDx touts second act for ‘workshop of the world’

On Friday regional business leaders, thinkers, and “makers” will congregate for TEDxPhiladelphia.

The day-long speaking event at Temple University’s Performing Arts Center is the local version of the popular TED Talks, a forum for innovations in arts, science, and business.

TEDxPhiladelphia is organized around a theme: The New Workshop of the World, playing off the city’s history as an industrial hub. While speakers will come from many walks of life —politics, education, music, business, etc — the single most-represented industry on stage will be fashion and textiles.

Philadelphia not only has a long history in textiles, it could have a big future in it. It’s an industry that can scale to almost any size, and by its nature it has to react to trends. Both entrepeneur Andrew Dahlgren and Drexel University professor Genevieve Dion are champions of computerized industrial knitting technology. For Dahlgren it is a vehicle for community-supported manufacturing, for Dion it is a tool for experimental fabrics, such as wearable technology.

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Dominique Streater, a recent winner of the TLC reality show “Project Runway,” will speak about the value of value, particularly in regards the manufacturing of clothing, “justifications for why you should pay more money for that clothing that’s going to last you for years to come.”

Natalie Nixon, the director of Strategic Design at Philadelphia University with a long history in the garment industry, says innovative business models can take cues from jazz.

“Every jazz musician is allowed to emerge as a leader in different moments, it requires an intense amount of listening and observation, and sharing the stage,” said Nixon, a fan of composer and pianist Horace Silver. “How amazing would it be if we all worked in organizations where work becomes a platform for true collaboration, emergent leadership, listening to expertise each person shares in distinctive ways?”

The jazz model is for more than small trios and start-ups; Nixon says elements of this kind of improvised business model — called “chaordic” systems — exist in large, successful companies like the Ritz-Carleton and Google.

The TEDx talk will also include an actual musician, Brian McTear. But he plans to avoid music altogether.

McTear runs a recording studio in Fishtown, which a few years ago created a way to record and distribute new music at no charge to the musician. His nonprofit group Weathervane is designed to create a community of subscribers — many of whom are home-recording enthusiasts — who help bankroll recording sessions in return for access to special events and the raw session tracks.

It’s not about selling downloads, CD’s, t-shirts, or other such doohickies. The title of McTear’s talk is “Content is worthless. Community is king.”

“It’s about creating, almost as though the are products, creating stable activities and experiences around those doohickies,” said McTear. “Honestly, it’s the public radio model. The music industry should be looking at the public radio model. They are really confused. They think they are a single-product industry: How does all this come back to selling our records? That’s the part they just have to get out of their brains.”

Another speaker at TEDxPhiladelphia is going to say that doohickies are, in fact, the most important part of social entrepreneurship. Chris Rabb, a professor at Temple’s Fox School of Business, says businesses that want to create community wealth need to start with their own product.

“If you are a manufacturer of asbestos-based lollipops for autistic kids, does it really matter what your business does in terms of philanthropy?” asked Rabb. “If you have an inherently predatory business, you are really talking about marketing on the social impact side.”

Rabb’s story of entrepeneurialism is his own. He comes from a long line of African-American business owners, including an ancestor who bought himself out of slavery with his skills as a butcher, ultimately creating a business that would send his grandson through medical school.

The TEDxPhiladelphia event is sold out. A live video stream of the event will be available in real time at TEDxPhiladelphia.org.

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