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TED is Coming to Boston

Posted by Scott Kirsner  July 14, 2009 03:52 PM

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A group of folks at Fidelity Investments are organizing a satellite edition of the famed TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Boston this month. TEDxBOSTON happens July 29th at Fidelity's conference center near South Station.

The idea of TEDx is that it's a TED-like gathering focused on high-quality speakers, but it's independently organized by local "friends of TED." TEDx is just a half-day long, while TED, held in California, runs for four days. And unlike the main TED event, which costs $6000 to attend (you must apply and be accepted), TEDx is free.

Sean Belka is the catalyst behind bringing TEDx to town; he's a senior vice president at Fidelity Investments who runs the Fidelity Center for Applied Technologies, where the financial services giant explores new ripples in tech. A regular attendee at TED, he tells me that "when they announced TEDx this past February, I was inspired by the TED mission of spreading ideas, since my role here is innovation. I basically thought that Boston would be a great venue, given all of the great ideas happening in Boston." Assisting Belka with TEDxBoston are Danielle Duplin, another Fidelity exec, and Matt Saiia, a one-time consultant at Fidelity who is now CEO at Collective Next.

Speaking at the event will be folks like Boston Philharmonic conductor Benjamin Zander, Harvard chemist George Whitesides, and jazz educator Philippe Crettien. They'll also show a couple videos recorded at the "mother ship" TED, featuring people like Pattie Maes from MIT's Media Lab and Bennington College president Elizabeth Coleman.

"We haven't done a lot of promotion of TEDx," Belka says. They've reached out to past TED attendees in the Boston area, and also invited some other "people we thought would find this of interest." But word started to leak out about TEDxBoston on Twitter last week.

The event will top out at about 250 people. They're still accepting invitation requests on the site, and Belka told me today (Tuesday) that they "haven't yet gotten to a point where we've had to make hard choices," implying that the event isn't yet completely full.

While Fidelity is providing the venue, they're not an official sponsor of the event; Belka says the only sponsors, really, will be food and beverage companies that will be supplying refreshments.

And if one TEDx isn't enough for this town, it looks like a second TEDx -- this one in Cambridge -- is in the works for this fall.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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