PROVIDENCE – Easton LaChappelle was obviously nervous addressing the audience at the Business Innovation Factory’s ninth annual Collaborative Innovation Summit, but that’s to be expected when you’re 17 years old.
Nonetheless, he soldiered on, describing how his hobby – robotics – had involved into an effort to create better and more affordable prosthetic limbs. He’s already achieved some real success, he told the more than 500 attendees who crowded the theater at Trinity Repertory Company Wednesday morning (the event is scheduled to continue Thursday). He’s heard that robotic prosthetic limbs can cost up to $80,000, yet he’s been able to build one for just $400.
His secret: he made the parts using a 3D printer, a technology that recently has become less expensive and more widely available. “Now that I’ve got into it, I want to make cooler things,” he said.
LaChappelle typifies the speakers making presentations at this year’s event. Most aren’t business people, yet they’ve caught the world’s attention with new ideas. Saul Kaplan, founder of the Business Innovation Factory and chief organizer of the event, explained that he deliberately looked for speakers who fit that mold.
“When you want to learn how to re-invent your business, the last people you should be talking to are the same old group of consultants saying the same old thing.” he said. “You should be talking to people who are successfully re-inventing themselves.”
Self-re-invention was the chief focus of photographer Stacy Pearsall’s presentation. She enlisted in the U.S. Air Force at age 17 and spent most of her career flying around the world snapping pictures of American troops. That ended in 2007, when a serious injury forced her to leave the military. But she’s used her background to launch a second career photographing American veterans. Sometimes she uses them as models in advertisements for police gear, outdoor equipment, and other items that are also used by soldiers.
“I’ve found I have a purpose again,” she said.
James R. Doty, who has studied compassion as a professor of neurosurgery at Stanford University, told of an event in his teens that forced him to re-examine his life. He’d grown up in poverty, and saw himself headed for a dead-end future. That changed the day he strolled into magic shop, and began a conversation with the owner’s mother. She told him she could help him find a life direction if he came by to see her every day that summer. Over the next few weeks, she taught him about meditation, visualization and the power of positive thinking. The result: he began working harder in school, and was accepted at Tulane University.
He ended his presentation with some thoughts gleaned from a religious leader. “I was talking with the Dalai Lama, and he told me ‘Western women will save humanity,’ ” he said. “Over the past few decades, women have been demanding that the rules be changed. And as that happens, it allows men to flourish, too. It’s going to save our species.”