CalArts alumni entrepreneurs combine arts education with business

(Front row from left to right): Panelists Harmony Jiroudek, David Braun, Tina Tangalakis, Robbie Nock, Leslie Scott and Erica Larsen-Dockray. Second row: Rita Soultanian and Rageshwar Goldberg. Courtesy of Rafael Hernandez

California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) welcomed students, alumni and community members to its campus Wednesday evening for an alumni panel discussion about navigating the world of arts entrepreneurship.

The Big Idea: Paths to Entrepreneurship” panel presented by the CalArts Hybrid Incubator for Visionary Entrepreneurs (HIVE) and Office of Alumni and Parent Engagement featured five alumni panelists who were successful in their arts start-up endeavors.

Panelists of the event included: Leslie Scott, founder and artistic director for BODYART Dance; Robbie Nock, founder of Signpost and Museum Guide, and director of alumni relations at Art Center College of Design; Tina Tangalakis, founder of Della LA; David Braun, founder and director of Open the Portal Studios; and Harmony Jiroudek, director of academic relations for Kadenze, Inc.

The event was moderated by Erica Larsen-Dockray, a CalArts alumna and faculty member in the experimental animation program who is also the co-founder of SCV Adventure Play, Eureka Villa and Calibraska.

“We really wanted to give students and alumni a real-life model of success… so students can see that inspiration and aspire to the next step of their process,” said Rita Soultanian, CalArts’ Career Services Director who leads the HIVE program.  “This event in particular is an exciting opportunity as well to connect with the Santa Clarita community so they can see what we’re up to here.”

The HIVE is a free program open to CalArts students and alumni that began in late-October 2016.  It provides attendees with access to business and design thinking skills while allowing them to work on innovative ideas or projects.

The “Big Ideas: Path to Entrepreneurship” panel hosted by CalArts’ Hive and  Office of Alumni and Parent Engagement at the CalArts campus Wednesday night.  Courtesy of Rafael Hernandez.

“It’s a very good program.  They have covered all areas of business, it has been very helpful,” art MFA student Ekta Aggarwal said.  “I have a small business in India and I want to grow that.”

The HIVE offers workshops, one-on-one consultations and speaker series events, like the panel Wednesday night.

“The Big Idea: Paths to Entrepreneurship” panelists covered topics ranging from funding a startup, finding motivation to continue a business, asking for help from mentors, trusting one’s gut instincts and refining one’s entrepreneurial vision.

“Kadenze was founded by a group of CalArtians and grew within that family,” Jiroudek said.  “It’s also just about research and throwing yourself into a field you might not be completely informed of and to just keep learning.”

Tangalakis offered similar advice, telling audience members to jump headfirst into their ideas and to lean on mentors for support.

“When you hear people’s stories and their struggles, then you can learn from their mistakes,” she said.  “Hearing stories from mentors is so important.”

Braun, who had the idea for his business while he was at CalArts, said he relied heavily on input and guidance from his peers and teachers at the institute.

“Having resources of other people to talk to is so important,” he said.  “One of the best resources we found was right here… partnering with other students and meeting with teachers.”

The panelists also offered practical, financial advice to attendees by telling them to be wary of accepting money from investors who are seeking a stake in their companies.

“The best advice I got this process was never take money unless you have to,” Nock said.  “That was so important.”

Scott also advised individuals not to work with anyone without a contract in order to facilitate open communication and transparency.

“There is no one that I will work with without a contract,” she said.  It’s so much healthier.  As long as you’re focusing on the product and not the person, then there is not a problem.”

The “Big Ideas: Path to Entrepreneurship” panel hosted by CalArts’ Hive and Office of Alumni and Parent Engagement at the CalArts campus Wednesday night. Courtesy of Rafael Hernandez.

Overall, the panelists encouraged budding entrepreneurs to find what makes them happy, follow that singular focus and work on their project each and every day.

Those who attended the event felt it provided invaluable information and insights into the entrepreneurial world and helped them feel prepared for when they begin their own business models.

“They provide insights into professional thinking,” said CalArts applied design student William Shirey.  “It’s been invaluable to hear the code of conduct for what to expect beyond these walls.”

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On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

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