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CAUSE & EFFECT: A “Light Bulb” Moment

CAUSE & EFFECT: A “Light Bulb” Moment

In honor of Southwest Florida’s celebrating the genius of renowned winter resident Thomas Edison, join me in a fun brain-teaser. What do the numbers 223,898, 1,093 and 82 have in common? I’ll give you a minute while the Jeopardy! jingle plays in your head. And no fair asking Siri or Google!

In order, those are the patent filing number for Edison’s landmark light bulb issued in 1880, the U.S. patents he held, and the years the annual Edison Festival of Light has celebrated his remarkable innovations.

As we mark the birthday of the “Wizard of Menlo Park” 173 years ago this month, it’s incredible to note that among the milestone inventions Edison’s wondrous imagination produced were those that not only gave light to the world, but also music with his phonograph and motion pictures with his kinetoscope.

Think about that: One of our very own revolutionized the way the entire world lives, works and plays. We even talk about “a light bulb going off” because his invention itself has become the universal metaphor for an idea.

The idea of our community celebrating Edison’s innovation began in 1938. The weeks-long events bring people together in a shared spirit of discovery, from school children to grandparents, inviting all of us to more fully explore and experience the world around us.

Part of Edison’s genius was knowing that, unlike his “electric lamp,” he didn’t work in a vacuum. In fact, the ultimate thinker, tinkerer and entrepreneur recognized that to be successful and transfer his ideas from a lab to a life, he had to integrate his lifelong love of learning, passion and inventive vision with collaboration.

When it came to devising solutions to obstacles in his path, Edison didn’t invent collaboration, but he certainly demonstrated its boundless possibilities. And it’s that same spirit of collaboration and connectivity that energizes Collaboratory.

I can’t help but wonder what Edison would have thought of our efforts to connect aspiration with collaboration through the many programs Collaboratory champions to advance the economic, cultural, and environmental sustainability in this place he once called home.

It’s that mission that aligned the Southwest Florida Community Foundation with co-collaborator SecondMuse to support initiatives that connect striving community members to the resources they need to realize their success just as Edison once did, whether it’s young students who are our future or today’s residents who seek to contribute to a flourishing present.

Always forward-thinking, Edison recognized the profound impact of what we now call STEM education long before we had a name for the crucial role that science, technology, engineering and math will continue to play in forging a resilient Southwest Florida.

Complementary efforts seek to bolster the participation of traditionally under-represented STEM students to prepare them to help strengthen our regional prospects. Girls Excelling in Math and Science (GEMS) provides academic support, mentoring and professional development for high school and middle school girls, while the I Will Mentorship Foundation (IWMF) helps prepare students in under-resourced communities and schools for STEM success.

More broadly when it comes to illuminating eager minds, thanks to the generosity of our donors and volunteer application reviewers, the Foundation awarded 128 scholarships totaling nearly $740,000 in Fall 2019, connecting community members who possess the financial resources with deserving students who otherwise might not have had an opportunity to further their education.

Additionally, in collaboration with SecondMuse, we recently celebrated the Kinective program’s first cohort. Kinective is a community-sourced incubator designed to spark and support the efforts of today’s regional “homegrown” entrepreneurs in a program where participants connect with established entrepreneurs, business executives and community leaders who provide mentoring.

The initiative’s goal is to increase the number, effectiveness and sustainability of successful small businesses and nonprofits throughout Southwest Florida. Kinective embodies the importance of providing people the access to opportunities and the tools they need to drive innovation and build a sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem.

I like to think Mr. Edison would have sensed a kindred spirit in Collaboratory. And, as the excitement builds toward the Grand Parade of Light that celebrates his trailblazing innovations, I realize that for all his imagination, he could never have imagined he would inspire one of the longest-running and largest night-time parades in the country just a stone’s throw from his home along the Caloosahatchee River.

Amid the triumphant fanfare of high school marching bands from near and far, the dazzling floats and the wondrous expressions on children’s faces as they soak in the jubilant pageantry, another brain teaser will cross through my mind: as Collaboratory and our regional partners work together to cultivate a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs in our slice of Edisonia, who might we celebrate in the future?

Don’t look now, but one of the schoolkids who wowed the crowd at the Edison Inventor’s Fair, or a participant in the ongoing Kinective program, or an enterprising small-business owner currently hard at work might just be pursuing an idea as bright as Edison’s light bulb. The “Wizard of Centennial Park.” Has a nice ring to it.


About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $7.7 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $134.9 million, it has provided $83.7 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it has served since its inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. The Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are located in the historic Atlantic Coast Line Train Depot at Collaboratory in downtown Fort Myers, with a satellite office located in LaBelle (Hendry County). For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit


Sarah Owen
Sarah Owen

Sarah Owen, President & CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, leads a passionate and diverse team dedicated to driving regional change for the common good. The Foundation is committed to engaging the community in conversations and action that creates sustainable positive change and provides the funding to make those changes a reality. More