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The nearly sold out BIF-8 Summit, slated to take place at the Trinity Repertory Co. in Providence on Sept. 19-20, has attracted both audience members and speakers from around the world. Attendees represent five countries and more than 200 companies. This year’s storytellers vary in age, culture, education and disciplines and include CEOs, authors, professors, artists and a 14-year-old entrepreneur, among others.
Unlike other similar events, BIF speakers, who are unpaid, tell their personal stories rather than the canned presentations they are paid to give elsewhere. “Listening to someone give a talk that they’ve given 20 times before, I don’t learn anything new. When somebody shares a personal story, a personal experience, and describes what they’ve learned through that experience, that makes a real difference,” Kaplan told Providence Business News.
The presenters rounded up for BIF-8 certainly have stories to tell. Fourteen-year-old Nicholas Lowinger of Cranston will tell the audience how he turned his bar mitzvah service project into a nonprofit that has raised more than $250,000 in monetary and footwear donations for children in homeless shelters. By August 2012, Lowinger’s company – Gotta Have Sole – donated footwear to 5,300 children in 11 states.
Felice Frankel, a science photographer and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher, plans to tell BIF-8 attendees about her photography, which she uses to communicate complex scientific ideas to the layman inside the pages of publications such as Nature, Science, Wired, Newsweek, Scientific American and Discover Magazine.
In addition to young social justice entrepreneurs like Lowinger and researchers like Frankel, BIF-8 attendees will also hear from what some may call more “typical” speakers, such as Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh and Robin Chase, co-founder of Zipcar.
Hsieh runs Zappos, an online clothing and footwear company that generates billions of dollars in sales each year. The author of 2010 New York Times bestseller “Delivering Happiness” will share what inspired him to create a progressive, laid-back work environment at Zappo’s Nevada headquarters, the company’s 2013 move to downtown Las Vegas and how he plans to use the company’s transition to turn the metropolis into “the most community-focused large city in the world,” according to an interview on the BIF-8 website.
Chase, co-founder and former CEO of car-sharing service Zipcar, will tell BIF attendees how necessity often drives innovation. Chase is also the founder and CEO of Buzzcar, a peer-to-peer car-sharing service and GoLoco.org, which combines online carpooling and social networking.
The speakers are actually a catalyst for the main attraction, according to Kaplan: “The magic of our summit is the long breaks in between the storytelling sessions. At Trinity, people are interacting in a nice but close environment. It’s amazing what happens over the two days of the summit.” According to Kaplan, the storytellers are there to inspire rather than instruct. “They are the catalysts between the 400 innovation junkies at Trinity Rep; their job is to get the reaction started.”
Kaplan sees the BIF Summit as not so much an event, but an effort “to create a community of like-minded thinkers.” It is an effort that has garnered growing attention since he founded BIF in 2002. Popular technology-news website Mashable calls the conference “one of the top seven places to see great minds in action.”
By making attendees participate in structured workshops and brainstorming events, Kaplan thinks the event will lose what he calls “random collisions,” when summit participants meet each other on breaks and start something together. “People want to be free to make the connections and to take from it what they think is important. That’s the environment we create.
“Not only has the summit gotten stronger, but it shows Rhode Island in such a positive light. The people who come to visit here come away with a wonderful idea of our state,” said Kaplan. “If Rhode Island could model the takeaway that people leave the summit with, we could fuel the economy.”