Monika Maeckle

By Monika Maeckle

The magic is that you’re there and you’re participating and it all comes together in this wonderful stew.”  

               —Susan Price, on TEDx San Antonio Talks

If you’ve never enjoyed a TED Talk, I encourage you to visit the TED website right now and take a click.

You’ll find Steve Jobs telling Stanford graduates how to live before they die, poet Sarah Key explaining what she would tell her daughter if she had one, and MIT grad student Pranav Mistry sharing the Sixth Sense, the mysterious connection between the physical world and data.  Most of us have experienced TED on YouTube, on the TED website, or my favorite:  listening to podcasts of inspiration in the car on road trips.

TEDx San Antonio
Have you become acquainted with TED yet?

On October 13, we can witness TED live and in-person.  On that autumn Saturday, 22 San Antonians will share stories and presentations of inspiration, passion and creativity.  It unfolds at the Arthur & Jane Stieren Theatre at Trinity University, 9 AM to 5 PM.  An after party will follow.  Tickets are $50.

TED, which stands for technology, entertainment and design, started in 1984 as a conference bringing people together from those three disciplines.  The shared mantra:  “ideas worth spreading.” Since, TED has grown to include a global audience, two annual conferences, TED Fellows, a TED prize of $100K awarded to “one wish to change the world,” more than 500 million views of its online talks, and a local extension of the franchise, TEDx.

Susan Price, Firecat Studios
Susan Price, Firecat Studio

“In 1998 I watched my first TED talk, someone at work forwarded me a link,” said Susan Price, a local web producer, USAA veteran and entrepreneur/founder of Firecat Studio who spearheaded bringing TED to San Antonio.  “It was this amazingly generous sharing of what I have come to describe as ‘brain candy’.”

When TEDx was announced in 2009 (the “x” means independent),Price moved quickly to bring TED here.  She worked with Todd O’Neill, who was running C4Workspace, the city’s first dedicated co-working space, to secure the TED license.  With the help of George Riley, who lives in San Antonio and works for TED, Debbie Curtis and Donna Tuttle, along with sponsorships from Trinity University and Rackspace, TEDx San Antonio was born.

The first crop of 16 San Antonio TEDx Talkers in 2010 included Julián Castro sharing his passion for how education can improve our city, Graham Weston explaining how to transform organizations of all kinds, and  Pamela Price and Holly Hirschberg talking about how to fight hunger, one vegetable at a time, through community gardens.

Last year, 17 presenters took the stage.    Entrepreneur and innovator Gurvinder P, “G.P” Singh relayed how he arrived in the U.S. from India in 1974 with $8 in his pocket and parlayed that into Karta Technologies.   Eddie Aldrete of IBC Bank shared his ideas on how to fix our immigration system, and Janie Barrera, CEO of Accion, Texas, sang the praises of micro loan financing.

This year, almost two dozen presenters will present their ideas, inspirations and passions.  I am one of them, and will share my passion for butterflies, the Monarch butterfly migration, and the life cycle we all share.  A diverse cross-section of our city’s most creative and inspirational figures will join me–Bob Harris from Lake/Flato Architects, Darryl Byrd of SA 2020, military trauma surgeon Colonel Todd Rasmussen, PHd Microbiologist Dr. Karl Klose and 17 others.   The full list of presenters will be available on the TEDx San Antonio website tomorrow.

If it sounds like fun, then hurry up and apply to attend.  Yes, that’s right.  You must apply.   TED is a curated event, across the board, said its emcee Victor Landa, Editor of Newstaco, a national Latino information website.  “The idea of people applying, then having to pay $50 a pop to participate, I didn’t think it would fly, but it  did.  It was a wonderful event for everyone.”

“This was really hard for me personally to get past,” said Price, when I shared my own awkwardness in inviting my friends to “apply” to attend.  Rackspace Chairman Graham Weston, a TEDx alum and no slouch in the idea department, agreed. “I see that as a way to make sure audiences remain diverse and that the ‘ideas worth spreading’ are being communicated to a variety of circles.”

Audience curation and a diverse participant mix makes for a much better TED event, explained Price. “Speakers are there to spark discussion– discussing and sharing ideas is the goal of the experience.” To nurture that cross-pollination, Price said the audience is capped at 450.  Participants are also asked to commit to attending the full day.

“We’ve had deep discussions about this,” said Price.  “If we had people just coming in and out, it would just be like a movie theater.”  For those who just want to see a particular speaker, Price recommended tapping into the live stream or watching presentations online after-the-fact.

Is TED elitist? The TED website tackles the question head-on:  “In a nutshell, no. It certainly attracts people who are regarded as elite in their area of expertise. But the word ‘elitist’ implies exclusionary, and there have been numerous steps in recent years to open up our conferences to as broad an audience as possible.”  The website also describes what TED curators seek in an audience member, which is people who:

  • are curious, passionate, open-minded
  • have done something fascinating with their lives
  • show evidence of creativity, innovation, insight, or brilliance
  • would be wonderful to sit next to at lunch and have a conversation with
  • are well placed to help make a difference in the world
  • have made a contribution to the TED community (for example, by supporting a TED Prize wish)

Fit the bill?  Want to join us?  If so, apply to attend  before September 17.  Hope to see you there.

Monika Maeckle writes about gardening, butterflies, conservation and the Monarch butterfly migration at the Texas Butterfly Ranch.  She covers nature in the urban environment for this website.  You can reach her at or follow her on Twitter @monikam.

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Monika Maeckle

San Antonio Report co-founder Monika Maeckle writes about pollinators, native plants, and the ecosystems that sustain them at the Texas Butterfly Ranch website. She is also the founder and director of...