DEI / Events

Ignite Philly 14 gets political

Sexual harassment. Immigration. The right to own a tiny house. Those topics and more took center stage at last week's event.

The speakers staged tiny protests.

The topics at Ignite Philly 14 ranged from immigration to sexual harassment gone unchecked to the right to own a tiny house (we’ll get to that). Even the speaker lineup, which was more racially diverse than any other Ignite Philly we’ve covered, seemed an act of activism.

Ignite Philly, the wildly popular, bi-annual series of five-minute talks on just about anything you can imagine (how to sing karaoke, say, or the history of herringbone), took over Johnny Brenda’s last week. Out of 19 speakers, nearly half were people of color. This was somewhere in between intentional and circumstantial, depending on who you ask.

Longtime organizers David Clayton and Geoff DiMasi said that while diversity of all kinds (race, age, gender, talk topic) is an important part of choosing Ignite speakers, this lineup likely looked the way it did because of the organizing team’s interests and networks. Clayton also mentioned that growing the Ignite Philly organizing team has helped build a more diverse lineup of speakers.

Corinne Warnshuis, the Girl Develop It executive director who joined the Ignite Philly team earlier this year, took a stronger tack.

“I personally very much think about diversity when identifying and pitching speakers,” she wrote in an email. “There isn’t the usual challenge of there not being many diverse speakers/participants in x insular community to choose from (business, tech, entrepreneurship, etc). But, that said, the curators and our personal networks are limited by the fact that we’re predominantly white. All the more reason for us to be conscious of diversity and strive to find people doing cool work outside of our own networks.”

Whatever the driving force, speaker lineups at the city’s prominent tech and community events matter — they are often the first introduction someone has to a certain scene — and we were heartened to see one that looked and felt more representative of the city.

Below, find our recap of the event.


yvonne jones

Yvonne Jones. (Photo by Kevin Monko)

We have to give Yvonne Jones, who presented about her plans to build a tiny house, two awards. We do not apologize.


“This story starts with the worst menstrual cycle ever. I know, that’s TMI. […] My period is the stoner. He’s Jeff Spicoli.”

What Jones thought were horrible menstrual cramps turned out to be an eight-pound tumor. After she got it removed, she realized, as she puts it: “I better get on that tiny house.”

(Plus, bonus points for talking about your period at Ignite.)


“Some people said, ‘If you build a tiny house, a man is going to think that you don’t need or want him.’ And I said, ‘Wow, that future husband you picked out for me is kind of a dick.'” — Yvonne Jones on some people’s disapproval of her plans.


The Frisbys have been in Philadelphia since the 1800s, Donna Frisby-Greenwood began. The Knight Foundation program director (and local fairy godmother) encouraged everyone to enter the Knight Cities Challenge, but first, offered a peek into her personal history. Frisby-Greenwood was at the White House Christmas party when Monica Lewinsky gave Bill Clinton a red tie — “So I ended up in the Starr report.” Then she went to the West Coast to work with Rock the Vote and later, with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. “It was love that brought me back to Philadelphia,” she said.


When San Diego Comic-Con refused to acknowledge sexual harassment and wouldn’t publicize their sexual harassment policy, HollabackPhilly’s Rochelle Keyhan and Anna Kegler posted official-looking copies of the policy in the convention’s bathrooms. “We did what they should have done,” Keyhan said.

New York Comic-Con revamped their sexual harassment policy after the campaign, which you can read more about here. (Sidenote: Kegler is a content marketer at business analytics startup RJMetrics.)

karina ambartsoumian

Karina Ambartsoumian. (Photo by Kevin Monko)


Karina Ambartsoumian, who runs the N3rd Street Farmers Market, took the stage to tell the story of how she became stateless after her parents bribed their way out of the Soviet Union when she was three years old.

“In many ways, I feel like a political prisoner,” she said. “I may never have a path to citizenship.”


At least in our opinion, the crowd sounded most fired up about Philadelphia’s forthcoming bike share program. Alison Cohen, who runs Bicycle Transit Systems, has implemented bike share programs for the past seven years but is now finally bringing it to her hometown.


Jon Geeting, PlanPhilly’s engagement editor, gave the audience a step-by-step guide on how to run for (and win) committeeperson, a position that acts as a liaison between Philadelphians in a division and their elected officials. Piggyback on another campaign, he said. Get a list of supervoters. Get swag (business cards).

“Once you win, because you’re probably gonna win if you do all this, it’s just about taking over more shit.” (And the crowd goes wild.) (NBD.)


Without immigrants, the city would be in deep shit.
Companies: Ignite Philly

Before you go...

Please consider supporting to keep our independent journalism strong. Unlike most business-focused media outlets, we don’t have a paywall. Instead, we count on your personal and organizational support.

Our services Preferred partners The journalism fund

Join our growing Slack community

Join 5,000 tech professionals and entrepreneurs in our community Slack today!


Philly startup Burro aims to revolutionize farming with robots

How to encourage more healthcare entrepreneurship (and why that matters)

Wagtail’s Philly event reaches beyond its software, aiming to bring together Python enthusiasts

Find out what type of heat wave you’re really in for with NOAA’s HeatRisk dashboard

Technically Media