Get to know the speakers of the Top Coast Festival.

This stellar line-up of problem solvers from across the U.S. will discuss their solutions with your favorite MPR News personalities.


  1. Russell Simmons

    Russell Simmons is a master entrepreneur and visionary. He has influenced virtually all aspects of business and media: in music with the co-founding of the immensely successful original Def Jam Recordings; in the fashion industry with the trail-blazing Phat Farm, Baby Phat, Run Athletics, and Def Jam University clothing lines; in film with Simmons Lathan Media Group; in television with HBO's The Def Comedy Jam and Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry; on Broadway with the Tony Award-winning stage production Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, and numerous other ventures in the financial services industry, mobile communications, and philanthropy. A native New Yorker, he is the proud father of two daughters.

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  2. Ezekiel Emanuel

    Ezekiel J. Emanuel is Vice Provost for Global Initiatives and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. From 2009 to 2011, he served as special advisor for health policy to the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Dr. Emanuel received his M.D. from Harvard Medical School and his Ph.D. in political philosophy from Harvard University. After completing his internship and residency in internal medicine at Boston's Beth Israel Hospital and his oncology fellowship at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, he joined the faculty at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He has since been a visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, UCLA, the Brin Professor at Johns Hopkins Medical School, and the Kovitz Professor at Stanford Medical School and visiting professor at New York University Law School. Dr. Emanuel has written and edited nine books, including Reinventing American Health Care, and more than 200 scientific articles. He is currently a columnist for The New York Times.

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  3. Aneesh Chopra

    Aneesh Chopra lives with an energy and a passion that are second to none. Born the son of immigrants, Chopra has spent his life focused on education and innovation, with a deep commitment to opportunity and equality for all. After attending John Hopkins University and the Kennedy School of Government, at Harvard, Chopra worked for the Advisory Board Company, a healthcare think tank dedicated to helping hospitals better serve patients. He began a full-time career of public service when Governor Tim Kaine chose him to serve as Virginia's Secretary of Technology. Based on his work in Virginia, Chopra was chosen by President Obama, in 2009, as the nation's first Chief Technology Officer. In 2013, Chopra ran for the Democratic nomination for Virginia Lieutenant Governor and he presently serves as co-chair of the Virginia Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign. He lives in Arlington with his wife Rohini Chopra and their two daughters.

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  4. Paul Tough

    Paul Tough authored How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, a New York Times bestseller that has been translated into 22 languages. Tough is a contributing writer to New York Times Magazine, where he's reported on education, parenting, poverty and politics. He's also worked as a reporter and a producer on WBEZ's This American Life, and he was the founding editor on Open Letters. He lives in New York.

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  5. Neil Blumenthal

    New York native Neil Blumenthal is co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker, a transformational lifestyle brand that offers designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses. Before Warby Parker launched in 2010, Blumenthal served as director of VisionSpring, a non-profit social enterprise that trains low-income women in developing countries to start their own businesses selling affordable eyeglasses to people living on less than $4 a day. He developed VisionSpring's award-winning strategy and expanded the company's global presence from one to 10 countries. In 2012, Blumenthal was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company. In 2013, he received an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award and was recognized as part of "The Next Establishment" by Vanity Fair. Blumenthal serves on the board of RxArt and on the United Nations Foundation Global Entrepreneurs Council. He lives in Greenwich Village with his wife Rachel.

  6. Mark Leibovich

    Mark Leibovich is an author, journalist and political writer. He's currently the chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine, and he's previously written for The Washington Post and The San Jose Mercury News. His most recent book is This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America's Gilded Capital, an acclaimed, Truman Capote-esque vivisection of Washington's political class that debuted at #1 on The New York Times non-fiction bestseller list (read an excerpt).

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  7. Richard Louv

    Richard Louv is the author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder,” which investigates the relationship of children and the natural world in current and historical contexts. Louv is the founding chairman of the Children & Nature Network.

  8. Ramez Naam

    Ramez Naam is a computer scientist, futurist, and award-winning author, most recently of The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet, which focuses on the environmental and natural resource challenge of climate change, and changing our policies to encourage both conservation and critical innovations. Naam spent 13 years at Microsoft, where he led teams developing early versions of Microsoft Outlook, Internet Explorer, and the Bing search engine.

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  9. Melanie Warner

    Melanie Warner has covered business and food-industry stories for many publications, including The New York Times, Men's Journal, Fast Company, and She's fascinated by where our food comes from, and she relayed her findings on its origins in her book, Pandora's Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal.

  10. Maggie Koerth-Baker

    Maggie Koerth-Baker is the Science Editor at, a fiercely independent online publication devoted to sharing and celebrating interesting things. She writes for The New York Times Magazine and authored Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure and the future of energy. Follow her on Twitter @maggiekb1.

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  11. Clive Thompson

    Clive Thompson is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired. He wrote Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better, released last year. A blogger since 2002, Thompson has long been fascinated by the Internet as a means for self-expression — from Wikipedia and collaborative art to the ESP of status updates. Find him at

  12. Jon Foley

    Jonathan Foley directs the Institute on the Environment (IonE) at the University of Minnesota. He leads IonE's Global Landscapes Initiative, focused on the sustainability of our civilization and the global environment. He's been published in many scientific journals, as well as The New York Times, Scientific American, and The Guardian.

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  13. Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl

    Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is one of America's most awarded food writers, she has won five James Beard Awards for her food, wine, and food personality coverage; she is senior writer for Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine, contributes to Saveur, Bon Appetit, and Food & Wine, and can frequently be heard on both The Current and MPR's All Things Considered Appetites.

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  14. Marti Erickson

    In a long career at the University of Minnesota, Marti Erickson served as founding Director of the Children, Youth & Family Consortium and director of the Irving B. Harris Programs in early childhood mental health. Marti also appears regularly on TV and radio in the Twin Cities and, with her daughter Erin, hosts Mom Enough®, a weekly internet-based parenting show.

  15. Dessa

    Dessa is a rapper, singer, essayist, and a proud member of the Doomtree collective. As a lyricist, she's earned a reputation for her writerly sensibility, her wit, and her honesty. On stage, Dessa runs her audiences through a wide span of songs and emotions — she'll sometimes hold court, quipping with a whiskey in hand, her dry banter melting into a bittersweet anecdote, then a torch song, then a dive into the audience to rap from the floor. As a writer, she's known for inventive metaphor, noir imagery, and an ability to pick out the little moments that are attached to big feelings. Her most recent collection of poetry, A Pound of Steam, was published by Minneapolis' Rain Taxi. Her most recent album, Parts of Speech, debuted in the top 100 on the Billboard on charts.

  16. Neal Justin

    Neal Justin is the TV and radio critic for the Star Tribune. He previously covered music and nightlife for the paper. He is heavily involved in the Strib's college internship program and is the co-founder of JCamp, a non-profit organization designed to inspire the country's most passionate high school journalists. Neal grew up in Mason City, Iowa, and graduated from Northwestern University. From 1991-93, he covered crime and regional news for the Rockford Register Star. Some of Neal's favorite interviews over the years include Bruce Springsteen, David Letterman, Miley Cyrus, Paul McCartney, Mindy Kaling and Jimmy Kimmel.

  17. Kerri Miller

    Kerri Miller joined MPR in 2004 as host of Midmorning and Talking Volumes™, the joint book club of MPR, the Star Tribune and the Loft Literary Center. She has been a radio and television news reporter since 1981. She has won numerous awards, including the Society of Professional Journalists National Achievement Award, Minnesota Broadcasters Award, the Associated Press Award and a Gracie award from the Association of Women in Radio and Television.

  18. Tom Weber

    Tom Weber co-hosts MPR News' The Daily Circuit™. He joined MPR News in January 2008 as a general assignment reporter and soon moved to the K–12 education beat. In 2011, Weber was the lead reporter on MPR News' investigation into Minnesota's anti-bullying law, a groundbreaking report that has prompted new proposals and vigorous debate. Previous to his work at MPR, Weber was a morning news anchor and reporter for KWMU St. Louis Public Radio for more than five years. He has won the regional Edward R. Murrow awards for writing and use of sound.

  19. Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is the Executive Editor and host of American RadioWorks®, APM's acclaimed documentary series. He also hosts MPR's monthly discussion series, Bright Ideas™. Smith has covered a wide range of international and domestic issues, including human rights, science and health, education, race relations and American history. Smith and ARW have been awarded the duPont-Columbia University Gold and Silver Batons. Smith has co-edited three books: Say it Plain, A Century of Great African American Speeches; Say it Loud, Great Speeches on Civil Rights and African American Identity; and After the Fall, New Yorkers Remember September 2001 and the Years That Followed.

  20. Tom Crann

    Tom Crann has been the host of All Things Considered for MPR News since 2005, though he has been a host, producer, and interviewer for Minnesota Public Radio since 1995. His work on MPR News has been recognized with an Eric Severeid award, a regional Edward R. Murrow award, and a National Headliner award. In addition to his work in news, Crann has spent over 20 years hosting and producing classical music and cultural programs at public radio stations around the U.S, and for RTE/Lyric FM in Ireland, where he is still a contributor.

  21. Chris Farrell

    Chris Farrell is economics editor of Marketplace Money, a nationally syndicated one-hour weekly personal finance show produced by American Public Media. Chris is also economics correspondent for Marketplace, the largest business program in broadcasting and chief economics correspondent for American RadioWorks, the largest producer of long-form documentaries in public radio. He is also contributing economics editor at Business Week magazine. He was host and executive editor of public television's Right on the Money. He is the author of two books: Right on the Money: Taking Control of Your Personal Finances, and Deflation: What Happens When Prices Fall. Chris is a graduate of Stanford and the London School of Economics.