The 630 | Bright Ideas

November 2017 View more

It was the lists that got Arthur Zards thinking about innovation in Naperville. Best Places to Live. Safest City in America. 100 Best Cities for Young Families. In fact, the city has landed on enough award lists to fill an eight-page document on its website.

“I’ve always been kind of annoyed that you see Naperville at the top of some list—usually because of safety and schools—and that’s where the discussion ends,” says Zards. He knew that the result of having great schools in safe neighborhoods was because of amazing people doing incredible things, and the idea for a local innovation forum, TEDxNaperville, was born.

“[I’d] been following TED Talks for years,” says Zards, “and when I found out they were licensing regional events, I immediately registered.” TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) began in 1984 as a nonprofit annual conference devoted to spreading ideas in the form of short, powerful talks. Its TEDx program supports independent organizers who want to create a TED-like event in their own communities.

Full Spectrum
Like its parent program, Zard’s passion project has grown exponentially. The first TEDxNaperville event in 2010 had 220 attendees; in 2016 he hosted 700. “We’re probably going to cap it at the 750 mark this year,” Zards says.

This year’s speakers include Daryl Davis, a jazz musician who also serves as a consultant on race relations; Naperville native and YouTube personality Matt Bray, the creator of viral videos “100 People of Dance” and “100 Days of Dance;” and Craig Sampson, a professor of design innovation at Northwestern University’s Segal Design Institute. Talks are three to 18 minutes long, says Zards, and “this year we’re playing with the format a little bit.”

TEDxNaperville tickets ($79–$95) include one Adventure, a sort of adult field trip to local points of interest the morning of the conference. Attendees can see how researchers validated the science behind engine technology at Argonne National Laboratory, tour Illinois’ first high school innovation center at the Illinois Math and Science Academy or learn about the beer-making process at Solemn Oath Brewery.

The 2017 conference will be held at Community Christian Church on November 10. For tickets and details, or to watch videos from previous conferences, visit