Kristen Gwinn-Becker, a historian and entrepreneur, discussing the risk of society losing its history during the digital age at TEDxDirigo on Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014.

Kristen Gwinn-Becker, a historian and entrepreneur, discussing the risk of society losing its history during the digital age at TEDxDirigo on Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Unless you’re a Luddite who spurns SmartPhones and avoids the Internet, it’s likely you’re familiar with TED talks — those short, often insightful talks about “ideas worth spreading” given by everyone from graffiti artists to astrophysicists to entrepreneurs.

The phenomenon that is TED — the acronym stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design — began as a one-off conference in California in 1984, but has since grown into a global brand with independently run TEDx events popping up everywhere from Crete to Kazakhstan. Maine has its own TEDx event, called TEDxDirigo, which began in 2010 when local organizers secured a license from TED.

The fifth annual TEDxDirigo was held Sunday at the Cabot Mill in Brunswick. Roughly 300 people packed into the venue, which normally houses Frontier, a restaurant and event and performance space. Speakers included an “aerosol artist,” a NASA scientist, an historian, a psychiatrist, a social worker and even my boss, Lisa DeSisto, MaineToday Media’s CEO. If you missed it, the event was streamed live and can still be watched here.

The event offers a unique opportunity to connect people with ideas to which they otherwise wouldn’t be exposed, Adam Burk, one of TEDxDirigo’s chief organizers, told me. And, because TEDx talks are often promoted on the official TED website, it also presents a positive image for Maine, he said.

“It’s also an opportunity to project a new and different image outside the state, more than just lighthouses and lobsters, and to use the world’s best platform for storytelling to share our ideas.”

Burk also announced an effort to launch a new conference next year called TEDxDirigo Youth, which would be organized by high school-aged kids for their peers

Omar Raouf, a 17-year-old senior at Portland High School who was attending his first TEDxDirigo on Sunday, said he’s excited about the prospect. While he’s a self-described TED fanatic and loves to listen to talks given by older adults, he thinks people his age have something new to offer.

“Having a youth program will add a different point of view,” Raouf said.

Any vibrant community needs spaces in which its members can mix, mingle, share ideas and be inspired by the experiences of others. That’s what makes TEDxDirigo a valuable element of Maine’s burgeoning innovation community.

Everyone I spoke to expressed a variation on the same theme: They were there to be inspired, to hear interesting people speak about interesting things, and to connect with others who came for the same reasons.

“I came to hear smart people and to be inspired by them and to connect with others doing interesting things in the state,” Molly Halley, director of multimedia at The Telling Room, a Portland-based nonprofit writing center, told me. Haley, who was attending her third TEDxDirigo, also said the event gives her the rare opportunity to reserve an entire day for nothing other than absorbing new ideas and having interesting conversations.

“I came to learn,” she said.

Jennifer Ecker, one part of the two-person team behind Shines & Jecker Laboratories, an online strategy and design firm in Portland, echoed Haley’s thoughts. When Ecker attends more traditional conferences, she always feels pressure to press flesh and justifying her attendance from a business perspective. Not so at TEDxDirigo.

“It’s nice to just come and say, ‘My brain is open and I’m going to absorb,'” she said Sunday.

But the conference is about more than people just indulging in interesting ideas. Sarah Hines, Ecker’s business partner, said the event and its goal of exposing people to new and different ideas is a necessary element in any entrepreneurial community.

“Where innovation happens is at the intersection between your experiences, your wheelhouse, and someone else coming along and giving a different perspective,” Hines said.

TEDxDirigo also offers a nice point of entry for people new to the community. Kate Brandeis, a Maine native who recently moved back to the state after working in San Francisco, San Diego and Boston, was attending TEDxDirigo for the first time partly as a way to connect with her new community. She works in Portland for a San Francisco-based startup called IfOnly, which works with charities and celebrities to offer unique experiences to members.

In trying to articulate how she felt about being at TEDxDirigo, she described two sometimes conflicting motivations — she felt almost selfish and indulgent attending TEDxDirigo, but at the same time recognized a sense of altruism because she attended with the expectation of being inspired and eventually giving back.

“There is no place I’d rather be,” she said.