moved back to
Detroit to start the
a company that
wants to design and
implement a mass
transit system for
started a small
Gym in 2005.
Inspiration comes standard at TEDx Detroit.
ive years ago, I joined a small
group of networkers in Detroit.
These folks were the cream of
the crop; the group was invite-only, and
focused on true business and personal
growth. For the most part, I still have
a close personal relationship with each
member of the group.
Two of the members, Terry
Bean of Networked Inc. and
Charlie Wollborg of Curve
Detroit Marketing, taught me
a lot. Terry taught me most of
what I know about networking
and relationship building, and
Charlie taught me about mar-
keting myself and being mem-
orable. Charlie referred to our
group as his "Merry Band of
Mentshes," a name that always
stuck out in my memory about
Of all the change and influence that
people in this group have brought to
Detroit, one of the most impactful was
Terry and Charlie bringing the TED con-
ference to Detroit. TED, which stands for
Technology, Entertainment and Design,
is an organization based in Silicon Valley
that puts on conferences based on "Ideas
Worth Spreading," their tagline. On Friday,
Oct. 26, TEDx Detroit was held Downtown
for the fourth time, this year at the historic
Gem Theater on Madison Avenue.
The Next Gen Of Mentshes
While TED conferences are always inspir-
ing, informative and memorable, this year I
felt like Terry and Charlie really went out of
their way to highlight a new Merry Band of
Mentshes. Here are a few examples:
Presenter Anthony Reale started a corn-
pany called Strait Power (he redesigned the
turbine based on the swimming design of
the basking shark). To be truthful, I didn't
understand most of what he said, but it
sounded impressive. What caught my atten-
November 1 • 2012
tion was when he put a slide on the screen
with the names of 131 people who, to date,
have helped him get this far. I have never
seen someone give so much specific credit
to one's journey during a presentation.
Neil Greenberg, a native Detroiter, moved
to California to become a map designer
for mass transit systems. He
moved back to Detroit to start the
Freshwater Railway, a company
that can design and implement a
mass transit system to connect the
tri-county area. More important,
they aim to educate people about
the possibilities of mass transit.
During Neil's presentation,
which may have been one of the
most animated of the day, he was
having trouble with his presenta-
tion and couldn't get it to go back
to the previous slide. In frustra-
tion, he said, "It looks like I can
only go forward, but can't go back."
It was awkward and we felt a little bad
for him, but then, through a moment of
clarity, he said, "Maybe there is a reason
for that; it must be a sign:'
There was a simple wisdom in what he
said, as if his words also referred to Detroit
and the world. It may have been just me,
but I believe he straightened everyone's
backbone with that comment.
Motor City Innovators
Andrae Townsel is a self-proclaimed "kid
from the streets of Detroit:' He gained
some notoriety over the last few years after
producing and starring in a music video
called City of Gold, a song about all the
positive aspects of Detroit. He is a profes-
sional football player and was just signed
to the Washington Redskins after play-
ing college ball at Howard University in
Washington, D.C. At Howard, Andrae got
his bachelor's and master's degrees and is
currently on track to receive a doctorate in
educational administration and policy.
Andrae has thrown his hat in the ring as
candidate for mayor of Detroit. He is run-
ning his campaign as someone who wants
to do what's best for the people of Detroit.
He stood up, thanked everyone for giv-
ing him the honor of letting him speak,
and then spouted a six-minute spoken
word poem that he wrote about growing
up in Detroit and accomplishing great
things. The room was silent until he fin-
ished and then erupted in applause. It was
amazing, emotional and truthful.
Noah Kaplan is a native New Yorker who
moved to Ann Arbor to go to art school. He
started a small custom speaker company
called Leon Speakers. While describing the
evolution of his business, he spoke about the
inspirations he'd had over the years that have
shaped the company. Noah, as do most busi-
ness owners, speaks about his company with
a level of confidence that is almost infectious.
He has a lot to be proud of as he is build-
ing a top-of-the-line product that sells
for thousands of dollars; yet, his personal
approach is so down to earth and humble. I
have never seen someone manage to balance
those two sides of a personality. He and I
spoke during the lunch break, and he spent
more time talking about how lucky he was to
have his people and his business than he did
talking about how great his product is.
For me, the most impactful speaker was
Carlo Sweeny, another native Detroiter
who grew up in a rough neighborhood.
His school teacher told him that by age 21
he was likely to be dead or in jail, part of a
cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies to which
Carlo fell victim. After serving his time,
he was determined to change that cycle by
"empowering kids to be champions:'
Carlo created the Downtown Boxing
Gym in 2005 and went to work changing
lives. Hundreds of kids have been men-
tored, trained and tutored in both boxing
and schoolwork at Carlo's facility. Today,
in order to get in the ring, your homework
must be done, and you need to keep your
grades up. You might think this would
turn kids off from wanting to participate,
but Carlo said that almost 100 percent of
the students in his program graduate high
school on time. In a city whose graduation
rate is the highest it has been in years, now
at 62 percent, the Downtown Boxing Gym
numbers are staggering.
Carlo said it as if we shouldn't be sur-
prised. "Of course most kids are supposed
to graduate! We aren't just creating cham-
pions; we are molding them into great
people," he said.
Their boxing record is quite impressive
as well. The top 10 boxers at the gym are
all nationally ranked in the top 10 of their
respective weight class. Carlo talked about
the community of parents that have become
inspired as well. If one parent can't drive,
another parent covers the carpool. If some-
one in the gym is sick, others go to check
on them. It is a real community, a family, a
place where people go to learn and grow. His
results are unprecedented. Carlo is a mentsh
creating mentshes, and his presentation left
me speechless. The number of lives that are
changed because of his inspiration is growing
daily and has no reason to slow down.
There is not enough room in this article
to go through every amazing presentation.
So do yourself a favor, carve out some time
and go to www.TED.com, browse through
the many videos there of TED speakers.
Some names you will recognize; others
you'll be glad to learn. Make sure to con-
nect with the folks at TEDx Detroit so you
will know when the 2013 conference takes
place. I am sure that Terry Bean, Charlie
Wollborg and their crew have no intention
of letting the momentum end.
Benji is a commercial real estate broker
at Howard Schwartz CRE and runs his website