FEEcon Was Phenomenal
Building on the enormous success of the inaugural FEEcon, FEEcon 2018 exceeded expectations and solidified FEE’s annual conference as the must-attend event of the summer.
A global community of nearly 700 people from 38 states and 17 countries joined together at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta from June 7th–9th, in a celebration of what is possible when the power of human creativity is left free.
Energy and excitement flowed throughout FEEcon with conversations about innovative and practical solutions to current issues. The conference was filled with individuals who aren’t waiting around for someone else to shape their world -- a welcomed relief from the counter-productive politicking that seems dominate today’s headlines.
Friday morning opened with an electrifying performance of the Wonder Woman theme by Tina Guo, internationally acclaimed Grammy-nominated cellist, recording artist, and composer. After her rousing performance, Tina shared her inspiring personal story and career journey—explaining how she battled through doubt and hardship to establish a career in music on her own terms.
Other keynote speakers spoke to the importance of grit and determination as they each set their own path in the face of resistance.
Scott Harrison, founder of charity: water, detailed his story of hitting a personal rock bottom after spending years as a New York City nightclub promoter. After facing a crisis of purpose, Scott took responsibility for his direction and decided to invest in himself while making a positive difference in the world. He has since coordinated over 28,000 privately-funded projects to bring clean drinking water to over eight million people in developing nations.
Brian and Gabrielle Bosché, founders of The Millennial Solution, explained how students can turn passion and talent into profit by creating value for others. They emphasized that today’s generation will have to shed the permission-based mindset to discover their purpose and take charge of their own career.
Lonnie Johnson, inventor the Super Soaker and now President/CEO of Johnson Research and Development, shared his incredible journey from growing up in segregated Mobile, Alabama to becoming one of the most respected engineers and scientists in the world. Lonnie was the only black high school student to participate in the 1968 Alabama state science fair. He went on to work for NASA and now holds more than 120 patents in his name.
Anousheh Ansari, the first self-funded woman to travel to the International Space Station and the first ever Iranian in space, closed the conference with a message that encouraged students to turn big dreams into reality by taking responsible action. Anousheh witnessed the Iranian Revolution as a teenager before emigrating to the United States at the age of 18. She is now the chairman and CEO of Prodea Systems and established the Ansari XPRIZE in 2004 to jumpstart the privately-funded space industry.
Set Your Path, Change the World
FEE’s president, Lawrence W. Reed, set the tone for the conference with his opening remarks on the main stage about what we mean at FEE when we talk about liberty as a “life philosophy.” Drawing from his new essay in the revised edition of Are We Good Enough for Liberty?, Mr. Reed explained that liberty as a life philosophy “...is made up of two components: The first is how you see yourself. The second is how you see (or interact with) others in society.” He reminded us that we should focus on getting our own affairs in order in lieu of trying to shape the world by controlling others.
The self-empowering messages of entrepreneurship, personal responsibility, and creativity were common themes throughout the conference as FEEcon attendees had the opportunity to customize their own conference experience.
Selecting from over 50 breakout sessions across 9 tracks, students and FEE’s supporters attended sessions side-by-side to explore the foundations of a free and prosperous society.
The Entrepreneurship and Business Success track was designed for those looking to change the world through commerce with a clear message that you don't have to choose between earning money and helping people. In a talk about the virtues of entrepreneurship, Brian Brenberg, Executive Vice President and Chair of the Program in Business and Finance at The King's College in New York, explained how profit and service have a lot more in common than people think.
In addition to learning foundational principles, students also learned practical skills for professional success. Katherine Swartz Hilton, the Executive Director of the McNair Center for Entrepreneurism & Community Engagement at Columbia College led a panel discussion about what it is really like to start and grow a business. Entrepreneurs on the panel included Magatte Wade (Founder of Tiossan), Levi Morehouse (Founder and CEO of Ceterus), and Steven Carse (Founder of King of Pops).
Students even had the opportunity to put their ideas to the test in the FEEcon Innovation Challenge. In a single day, participants formed an idea, created a viable business plan and pitched the idea to a panel of experts for a chance to win over $15,000 worth of prizes, including funding and mentorship to bring the business idea to life.
FEEcon offered the Creative Pursuits track for students interested in making a career in the arts. Professionals from across disciplines shared advice about how to turn a passion for creativity into a meaningful career. FEE’s Director of Media Sean Malone moderated a series of panels that ranged from getting that first break to accepting criticism from your creative mentor(s). Speakers in this track included diverse talents such as YouTube personality Kevin Lieber, screenwriter Paul Guay (Liar, Liar), film composer John Jennings Boyd (A Lego Brickumentary), radio host Joey Clark, and photojournalist Lido Vizzutti.
Attendees also had the ability to network with industry professionals from Taliesin Nexus who hosted a screening of five short films, followed by an interactive Q&A panel discussion, at the Thursday night welcoming reception.
FEEcon even featured several live podcast recordings, including FEEcastepisodes with T.K. Coleman and Magatte Wade and a Words & Numberswith James R. Harrigan and Antony Davies. Bryan Hyde, host of the Loving Liberty program, recorded several interviews from the FEEcon sponsor hall.
FEEcon featured a variety of tracks examining the deeper ideological foundations of freedom.
The Philosophy, Politics, Economics track, sponsored by Reason, covered a range of topics in from the moral sciences. This track featured three sessions on Austrian economics, including a talk by professor Donald J. Boudreaux on competition, prices, and the entrepreneurial market process through the Austrian lens. Yaron Brook, chairman of the board at the Ayn Rand Institute, made the philosophical case for free markets in a talk titled, “Self-Interest: Necessary for Value Creation & Freedom.”
The Ralph Smeed Private Memorial Foundation sponsored a track on Challenging Statism that featured a panel discussion about the socialist destruction of Venezuela. In one of the most-attended breakout sessions at FEEcon, panelists provided a first-hand account of how Venezuela went from prosperity to ruin when liberty was lost.
The emotional apex of the conference came when Wuilly Artega took the stage with his violin to perform a chilling set against the backdrop of protest footage from Venezuela. This courageous young man escaped from Venezuela earlier this year after being detained and tortured for his role in protesting (famously, by playing violin) against the oppressive and violent Venezuelan government.
After the performance, Jorge Jraissati and Javier Garcia joined Wuilly on stage to present a Venezuelan flag to Lawrence Reed in appreciation of FEE’s support in the battle against government tyranny.
FEEcon also offered a series of debates and panels that allowed attendees to hear a variety of perspectives about the proper role of government. The Debating the Issues track, sponsored by Loving Liberty, took on a range of topics from inequality to the environment. FEE’s Director of Content Dan Sanchez moderated a discussion about the limits of free speech with the Goldwater Institute’s Christina Sandefur, Reason’s Robby Soave and Students for Liberty’s Wolf Von Laer.
The Technology and Innovation track, sponsored by Social Evolution, explored an array of technologies that are reshaping our world. From panels on Blockchain and Cryptocurrency to Seasteading and Startup Societies, Max Borders moderated a series of discussions that provided a window into our future. Robert Viglione, Co-founder of ZenCash, joined blockchain experts Michael Tidwell and Justin Goro to discuss the practical implications of decentralized technology.
FEE partnered with Market Urbanism for an entire track devoted to exploring the complex ecosystem of cities in the modern urban setting. Nolan Gray, Michael Lewyn, and Emily Washingtonexplained how government imposed standards and planning restrictions have caused traffic congestion and created an affordability crisis in urban housing. Patrik Shumacher offered a better way forward, drawing on insights about the capitalist revolution in urban development.
The Paths to Education track explored what is possible in the world of education when we push the limits of thinking about how we learn. Several sessions focused on practical advice for improving leadership skills and developing a personal brand. Others highlighted stories from people who are innovating the way the world learns. A panel featuring Reason’s Nick Gillespie, Bold’s Carrie Sheffield, Free the People’s Matt Kibbe, and Grassroots Leadership Academy’s Matthew Hurtt discussed the tools and platforms they use to reach people where they are learning today.
Think Freely Media returned to FEEcon to host the 2018 FEECon Great Communicators Tournament. Laura Williams won first place and advanced to the 2018 Great Communicators Tournament, held during the Atlas Network’s Liberty Forum in New York City on November 7th-8th. The 2017 FEEcon tournament winner, Abbey Lovett, went on to win the $10,000 Great Communicators Grand Prize. This year, Abbey rejoined us at FEEcon as a speaker. She took the stage with T.K. Coleman, education director at Praxis, to teach students how to be rockstar communicators.
All of this, of course, would not be possible if not for our generous supporters and partners. At FEEcon, VIP attendees had access to all sessions, plus they enjoyed exclusive experiences they had come to expect from FEE’s Annual Retreat.
After a strategic update from FEE staff, VIPs were treated to the premiere of the latest film in FEE’s How We Thrive series, featuring Magatte Wade.
During the VIP lunch, a panel led by Stand Together's Erin Keating discussed how partners in the non-profit sector can apply the Market-Based Management approach to further social impact.
The conference concluded with a banquet dinner, featuring a keynote address by Charles C. W. Cooke, Editor of National Review Online.
Building Lifelong Connections
This year’s Leonard E. Read Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, Matt Kibbe, remarked that a FEE seminar was the first time he felt that he was not alone in these ideas. FEEcon has taken that experience to an entirely new level.
In addition to being a content-rich environment, FEEcon is a community. It’s a gathering of friends both new and old. Several attendees from Brazil remarked that FEEcon is the one opportunity when they can get together with student leaders from around South America to meet one another in person and learn what everyone is working on in their respective home countries.
The networking opportunities allowed students to engage with our partners and business leaders, and our partners were able to connect with the next generation of people who are changing the world. In addition to the conference-wide receptions hosted in the exhibit hall for our 40 sponsoring organizations, FEEcon featured “next steps” and “ask me anything” panels where students could directly engage with partners of interest including Young Americans for Liberty, Institute for Humane Studies, Reason and The Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
When embarking on a project like FEEcon, you can’t fully know what the impact will be. That’s why it is so encouraging to hear stories of people putting new inspiration into action. For example, during FEEcon 2017, the folks at Loving Liberty hatched a new project called “Who’s Next?” that has already reached millions with true stories of real families impacted by government overreach.
I can’t wait to see which achievements FEEcon inspired this year! FEEcon has truly blossomed into an incredible community of entrepreneurs, innovators, wealth creators, and people of extraordinary personal character who are changing the world.
I hope you mark June 13th-15th on your calendar and join us for FEEcon 2019 at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis!
Embedded below is a YouTube playlist of FEEcon keynote talks and performances: