CalArts begins new program for arts entrepreneurship

Rita Soultanian, CalArts’ Career Services Director who leads the HIVE program, speaks to a guest at the The Big Idea: Paths to Entrepreneurship” panel presented by the CalArts Hybrid Incubator for Visionary Entrepreneurs (HIVE) and Office of Alumni and Parent Engagement on Feb. 8. Courtesy of Rafael Hernandez

The California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) campus is now home to an incubator program designed to provide students and alumni with the entrepreneurial toolkit they need to work on an innovative idea, product, project or business.

Named the Hybrid Incubator for Visionary Entrepreneurs, or the HIVE, the program presents workshops, events and panel discussions to members of the CalArts and Santa Clarita communities throughout the academic year.

“It’s really cool to see artists get excited about business ideas,” said Rita Soultanian, CalArts’ career services director who leads the HIVE program.  “The program is great in developing not only a business idea, but also in providing insight into a lot of useful skills as an artist.”

The idea for the HIVE first began in summer 2016 with another pilot program titled the Summer Residency in Creative Entrepreneurship.

“We offered a business toolbox and design thinking courses for students and alumni in a five-week timeframe,” Soultanian said.

A total of nine students and alumni participated in the summer residency, which attendees said changed their view of not only entrepreneurship, but also artistry.

“It was transformative.  I now have a new way of thinking and I am appreciative to the program for that,” said Leonardo Krotser, who graduated from CalArts’ character animation program in 2010.  “Taking this program really opened my eyes to businesses and looking at problem solving in a positive way.”

Krotser said the summer program taught him the business tools to make his art profitable and the business terminologies to understand the entrepreneurial world.

“This program helped me focus on new ways to turn my art into a sellable product,” he said.

The success of and growing interest in the program sparked the creation of the HIVE initiative in late-October 2016.  Soultanian said she spent time researching entrepreneurship and local resources surrounding business development to develop the program’s offerings.

“I utilized a combination of our current resources in the CalArts community and then reached out to those in Santa Clarita,” Soultanian said.

The program is led by CalArts alumni, CalArts faculty, successful entrepreneurs and Santa Clarita business men and women who discuss the concepts of business fundamentals, financial planning, marketing, problem solving, market position, networking, design thinking and more.

Workshops focus on everything from generating cash and protecting one’s intellectual property rights to creating elevator pitches and exploring social media marketing.

The free, donor-funded program also offers a comprehensive entrepreneur speaker series—which is open to the public—and one-on-one consultations with Ruby Lerner, the former CEO and founder of Creative Capital.

Individuals are not required to attend all of HIVE’s offerings, but are encouraged to do so in order to participate in the program’s culminating event: a Pitch Contest on April 8, 2017.

“After researching the different ways people developed entrepreneurships, we thought it was the best way to develop the contest since they’re [artists are] naturally creative and willing to think out of the box,” Soultanian said.

Winners of the Pitch Contest will then be led into a five-week incubator and be awarded a stipend to develop their ideas further.

So far, Soultanian said four participants have already developed an idea to pitch during the contest.

William Shirey, a current CalArts applied design student, said he is not sure if he will participate in the Pitch Contest, but said he is grateful that the program prepared him for life after CalArts.

“I attend the meetings as much as I can,” he said.  “I don’t want to graduate feeling scared or nervous, I wanted to be prepared and this program prepares you.”

Soultanian hopes the HIVE offers insights into launching an entrepreneurial idea and inspires students to refine their vision, while providing them with real-life models of success along the way.

And, from participants’ perspectives, it appears as though the program is accomplishing just that.

“These skills will definitely translate to my future artistic practices and beyond,” said Ben Finley, a 2016 CalArts performer-composer graduate who participated in the summer residency.  “I feel much more capable of planning a business model and turning a vision into a feasible, desirable, and viable plan.”

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