What was once a boisterous place for debating issues with strangers and presenting research to the public has flatlined into a quiet, sterile environment softly lit by the glow of laptop screens. Modern coffeehouses are far from a Friends episode - these places are now merely transactional, instead of serving as a connective tissue for meeting new people and engaging in deep discussions.

In centuries past, coffeehouses sparked ideas that led to innovation and changed history. After a series of caffeine-fueled arguments lit his fuse, Sir Isaac Newton wrote his breakthrough work on the foundation of math. (He also dissected a dolphin on a coffeehouse table.) Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet Common Sense set the stage for the Revolutionary War, was also a regular on the coffeehouse circuit. But free Wi-Fi that connects customers to social media is a convenient façade for the meaningful relationships that used to be forged across those tables. Reinforcing this is a recent study from the University of Michigan, which found that the more often people used social media as their connection with others, the sadder they were.

Which is why we need a coffeehouse renaissance. This is at the core of why I started Chicago Ideas Week three years ago.

Ideas conferences are Coffeehouse 2.0, the next evolution of the necessary haven for people to Think Out Loud in an intellectual playground that allows them to think not just about what is, but about what is possible and what should be. I built Chicago Ideas Week (CIW) to harness the energy of the best thinkers and doers of our time – and channel their energy to inspire people, foster unexpected connections and prompt the type of powerful action that was a hallmark of the coffeehouses of old. But unlike most ideas conferences, which can cost thousands of dollars and require travel to a vacation-esque destination, CIW is as accessible as your local café.

It all started about three years ago on a plane ride home from, well, an ideas conference. At this far-away conference, I had made new friends with everyone from poets to engineers. I was riding an adrenaline high, my mind racing with a mosaic of thoughts from the event. I had been exposed to amazing people who had me thinking about the power of meditation, the way cancer cells function, how behavioral economics could solve our debt crisis, and why forensic data mining could help stop wars.

But after the plane landed, a sinking feeling set in. I was back in Chicago, without a place to transfer the energy and momentum that I had collected at the conference. “Why did we not have that type of conference in Chicago?” I asked. As an entrepreneur, my answer was simple – I needed to build one. I needed to create something that didn’t exist - an expansive ideas conference in a major city. And by virtue of it being in a big city, it would spark the creation of an innovation-minded community that could use those great ideas to do amazing things, build year-round connections and make a difference.

And Chicago Ideas Week was born.

When coffeehouses came to London in the 1600s, they spread fast. About 82 were set up by 1663, and in just three years that number swelled to 500. We’ve seen similar incredible growth at CIW, doubling in size between our inaugural event in 2011 and our second year in 2012. As a nonprofit with no political agenda, that’s not bad. We’re bringing together dynamic speakers from around the world, letting people experiment with exclusive, hands-on, behind-the-scenes activities we call Labs. And we’re running year-round programming that keeps flame lit during the seven-day October event burning long after the week comes to a close.

We’ve reinvented the coffeehouse. And we did it our way. In Chicago.

Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, coffeehouses were actually referred to as penny universities because you could hear amazing lectures for just the cost of a cup of coffee – a mere penny. It broke down social barriers to have people from different paths of life collected in the same room to passionately discuss things they care about – which is also our goal. The CIW stage has hosted former presidents alongside iconic poets, groundbreaking scientists, provocative artists and social entrepreneurs. And by making our events only $15 to attend, we’re proud to offer a platform that is inclusive, expansive and unique among its peers. For less than the price of a movie and popcorn, CIW attendees can hear and interact with incredible speakers, like former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, former President Bill Clinton, legendary journalist Tom Brokaw, Gen. Colin Powell, actor Edward Norton, author Mitch Albom, physician and well-being guru Deepak Chopra and so many more. And all of our Talks and then put online for those who can’t be there physically.

The energy generated at these events is the new caffeine. Legendary French author and philosopher Voltaire may have downed between 50 to 72 cups of coffee a day for inspiration back in the 1700s, but fast forward to 2013 and you can see people’s minds sparked by the brilliant stories, reflections, predictions, insights and revelations shared on the CIW stage.

Back in the old-school London coffeehouse days, certain locations became known as the launching points for business ventures. That spontaneous, collaborative essence is something we’re also infusing into CIW. We bring top corporate leaders, heads of nonprofits, promising startups and social entrepreneurs together to meet and be inspired by people from sectors they might otherwise not connect with, such as artists and chefs. In our 21st century, fast-paced world, we’ve become too specialized in our jobs and segmented corporate offices – as well as in our personal lives. We have technology that streams us whatever we want through RSS feeds, customized content and data-driven marketing. But we also need intellectual recreation with others to refresh our spirits and stimulate our minds.

Even Benjamin Franklin - one of our country’s founding fathers, an author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman and diplomat – was a coffeehouse regular. We’re excited to see what modern-day Franklins emerge from the Chicago Ideas Week coffeehouse - we’ve already seen so many things started and so many people come alive because of it.

And we’re just getting started.

I hope you can join us at the Chicago Ideas Week coffeehouse this year - October 14 - 20.

And as for me – I like my coffee with extra caffeine!

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