In The Spirit of TED, BIL Conference Takes Downtown Long Beach • Long Beach Post


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As the TED conference finishes its four days of legendary talks from leading thinkers around the world, another conference built around networking and idea-sharing among change-makers is moving into town. Starting Saturday morning at 9AM, the open-to-all BIL conference (yes, there is an 80s movie reference in there somewhere) will take over the Z Gallerie building on Pine Ave. with two days of talks, only some of which are pre-scheduled. 

Already on the diverse list of subjects that will be tackled at this year’s BIL is: globalist banking, ramen cooking, climate change, zonohedral structures and how to get a free college education. The rest, says BIL co-founder and organizer Tod Huffman, will be decided just an hour before programming begins, when attendees sign up for available time slots on the white board schedules beside each stages. 

This, he says, is the beauty of BIL, which he started inadvertently in 2008 after joking to a friend that instead of crashing TED parties in Monterey, they should just start their own concurrent event. 

“I sent an email saying, ‘We should do our own thing down the street from TED and anyone can talk,'” Huffman said on Friday night as more than 30 volunteers (called “BILders”) were setting up at 230 Pine for the next day’s activities. “I was kind of joking, but then he emailed back and asked if I was serious because his friend had just bought a plane ticket.”

The first BIL was planned only six weeks out and did not have any talks scheduled ahead of time–just a white board, stages separated by broad subjects like “art” and “human sexuality,” and time slots. More than 500 people showed. When TED moved to Long Beach in 2009, BIL followed. It has since held its open-mic-style conference the weekend after the exclusive gathering at various venues throughout the city, which is, coincidentally, where Huffman grew up before settling in his current home in San Francisco.BILlogo

He says the goal is to make the world a better place by fostering a space where big vision ideas can be shared, not necessarily to compete with the TED conference or get TEDsters to come to BIL (though some of them do stay in town to attend).

“We are definitely inspired by TED and not the anti-TED as some people try to make us out to be,” said Huffman. “The original idea was: how do we make this scaleable, because we cant all go to TED.”

When BIL began, there were no alternative conferences to share the kind of change-making ideas that fell outside of TED’s scope–no TEDx, no self-motivated adjunct events. TED talks were available to watch online, so the brand had already begun to gain recognition, but the concept had yet to be democratized, which is exactly what BIL did. 

And since that initial run on 2008, BIL has taken on a whole life of its own with speakers flying out from Germany, Israel and France for this weekend’s conference as well as inspiring independently organized BILs taking place as far away as Tunesia.

“If TEDx had existed I might have just said, ‘Let’s do a TEDx,'” Huffman said. “But also with TEDx you have to get permission and they would never give you permission to do a TEDx down the street right after TED.” 

BILshirts

BIL shirts for sale this weekend. Photo by Dennis Dean.

Now that BIL is in its fifth year, Huffman and his crew have figured out a way to organize the chaos of hosting an ad hoc conference by inviting certain speakers to fill in time slots, which creates structure that people can then sign up to speak around. Admission to the two-day conference is $45, but organizers say that no one will be turned away for not being able to pay, especially students.

It’s still up in the air whether or not BIL will follow TED to Vancouver next year, but what is certain is that nearly 1000 people will file into the Z Gallerie building over two days to hear ideas, share stories and network in an eclectic atmosphere. 

“If we move to Vancouver, it would be mildly more annoying to coordinate because a lot of people who are involved live in L.A.,” said Huffman. “We might just do it in Long Beach for fun. Who knows? Maybe we will take over the convention center.”

BIL Conference will be held March 2-3 at 230 Pine Ave. Talks start at 9AM both days. A list of scheduled speakers along with time frames for each days are available online at BILconference.com

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