Ever been to an idea festival? Did you know the concept—in the United States, at least—originated in Kentucky? In 2000, the first IdeaFestival was held in Lexington, with 2,500 participants in its first year. In 2006, the festival moved to its current home in Louisville. Since then, more than 100,000 people have attended the annual event that bills itself as a place where you can “think differently and share that way of thinking with innovative, like-minded individuals,” explains Kris Kimel, the event’s founder.
IdeaFestival 2016 kicks off Sept. 27 and runs through Sept. 30. We checked in with Kimel to find out more about this decidedly unique experience.
For starters, what is IdeaFestival?
“At IdeaFestival, we don’t do trivialities,” Kimel says. “We instead focus on big questions and ideas, that inspire, challenge and are sometimes dangerous in the sense that they are disruptive, often challenge the status quo, risky and transformative.”
There are no specific themes or tracks. Instead, he says, “IdeaFestival is like a puzzle with no predetermined final solution. We give you the pieces but it’s up to you to put them together in a way that moves toward a solution.”
He says the event’s attendees, who last year hailed from 11 states, are fundamentally curious and represent a variety of industries, age groups, and walks of life but share a mindset of embracing big ideas, creative thinking, imagination and entrepreneurship.
The event subsidizes 25 percent of its session seats. This allows high school and college students from throughout the region to attend.
“We believe it is our responsibility to share IdeaFestival’s visiting thought-leaders and influencers with as wide an audience as possible, providing access and exposure to Kentucky’s students who will shape our future,” Kimel says.
IdeaFestival’s impact on local innovation
As for Louisville, the event’s home for the past decade, Kimel says the festival’s presence is helping pave the way for innovation: “Louisville and Kentucky have many positive attributes that help define our community’s brand and image. Unfortunately innovation, discovery and bold ideas are not top of the list, reflected in a number of critical 21st century metrics. We believe that IdeaFestival, while not the sole solution, has evolved as an integral part of the region’s future growth, diversity and development, including among young people.”
“We also believe we are creating a call to action for local organizations and individuals to stretch, to grow, to remain curious all year long thus impacting our community’s culture and attitude,” he says.
Kimel says the festival has produced plenty of innovation-related success stories: “Our history has demonstrated that what emerges from this process is fundamentally unpredictable and often magical. Such outcomes include novel ideas for new companies, products or processes; the inspiration to quit your job to pursue a dream; a new (and perhaps completely unexpected) perspective on how to solve a difficult problem. We even helped foster a kidney donation—talk about unexpected!”
On this year’s agenda
As it is elsewhere, virtual reality will be a topic of concentration at next week’s event. Festival pass holders received Google Cardboards, and Kimel says there will be additional VR experiences throughout the festival. “Our hope is that everyone will explore and learn more about VR and how it is impacting not just gaming, but science, marketing, health and more,” he says.
At night, small groups will gather at local restaurants for a chance to dine up close and personal with presenters and other attendees. “No program or agenda; just casual, interesting conversation with thinkers, doers and makers from around the globe that fosters creative thinking and facilities new personal and professional network growth,” he says.
Sounds like a blast, right? There’s still time to register, and your ticket could come with a 10 percent discount by using the promotion code SAVE10. Can’t make it next week? The organization has expanded its signature, one-day event into a year-round program with smaller, audience- and industry-specific events held around the state.