Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ignite Howard County Is a Spark for Real Conversation

September 29, 2015

Posted in: Guest Article

Ignite Howard County Is a Spark for Real Conversation

By Susan Kim, Staff Writer

In the lobby of the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College, people are deep in conversations about topics that don’t usually share talking space: near-death experiences; jump roping; a sense of beauty; and whether, in fact, we all have “too much stuff.”

They’ve just attended Ignite Howard County, a fast-moving production featuring 12 speakers who talk for five minutes apiece, each with an allotted 20 slides that automatically advance every 15 seconds behind them. The speakers are a little of everything: playwrights, high schoolers, entrepreneurs, artists, wealth managers. They could well be your neighbors, but they’re up on stage talking about things they’ve probably never told you.

Think About It

Filmmaker Robert Neal Marshall says he died two years ago. It’s a catchy opening line, but really he’s sharing his near-death experience in five minutes. He did “see the light,” and in some ways his story isn’t all that different than the near-death experiences we’ve all read about. But he lives here, in Howard County, and he does have an underlying message about death: “You don’t pack, you don’t plan — and sometimes we don’t get to say goodbye.”

Pragmatic businesspeople might wonder: What’s the point of Ignite Howard County? Simply, the event creates a meeting space in which people can listen and be listened to besides and beyond Facebook and Twitter.

These five-minute nuggets aren’t as polished as the longer TED Talks most businesspeople have listened to at one time or another. (TED [Technology, Entertainment, Design] is a global set of conferences run by the private nonprofit Sapling Foundation, under the slogan: “Ideas Worth Spreading.”) But, as Larry Twele, CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, said in his introduction, we all could stand to take some time to appreciate the folks who live next door.

“One of the most attractive things about the county — what we market about it — is the quality of life and the commitment that surrounds us,” he said.

Ignite is a local breeding ground for entrepreneurial minds. Not every speaker will thrill you, but one or two will fill you in on something you simply hadn’t thought about.

Beaded Ropes to Storage Jails

Sophia Skalny, a sophomore at River Hill High School, is a national class competitive jump roper with a group called “Kangaroo Kids.” It’s a cute name — but this is not the jump roping you did on your mother’s driveway, as you soon learn from her slides, which show photos of her and her peers airborne at impossible angles. “We use beaded ropes, freestyle ropes and speed ropes,” she said. “We also hope jump roping will be in the Olympics.” You can say you knew her when.

Sometimes speakers have a new take on something you’ve heard before. Alyscia Cunningham said, “We are all beautiful in our way” — a quote that’s been said or written millions of times, but then she went on to describe a business she has created around unaltered photography depicting natural beauty.

Artist Lee Andersen waded in deep, asking: “Is there a theory of everything?” while Mark Stinson — known by many in the business community because he is senior adviser at FAI Wealth — questioned if we all just have too much stuff.

Stinson, who on any given workday might be offering advice on how to accumulate wealth, isn’t afraid to stand up for five minutes with hand-scrawled cartoon slides, one of which is a scribbled ball of darkness that represents all our stuff.

“Howard County,” Stinson said, “tear down this ball.” He drew a self-conscious laugh from the audience. “We have so much stuff that we rent little storage jails to make sure nobody uses our stuff.”

He went on to talk about wealth in a way he likely doesn’t at work: “Your houses should not have more bathrooms than people. You should not have more autos than drivers. If you buy a shirt, blouse or top — no, I don’t know the difference — donate an old one.”

After Ignite was over, the laughing and talking about “too much stuff” kept going in the lobby for a long while.

So, what’s the point of Ignite Howard County? Perhaps it’s just a way to meet neighbors, business associates and clients on a level that gets us really talking.

For more information about Ignite, visit

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