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Blending art and business to develop next-gen ideas

NUvention: Arts shows students what it takes to launch a company in the age of digital disruption

Elizabeth Hunter with skull
Elizabeth Hunter created an educational video game based on Shakespeare's Macbeth.

Elizabeth Hunter isn’t sure she would have pressed on after her first crack at crowdfunding if it hadn’t been for NUvention: Arts. As it became clear that Something Wicked, Hunter’s educational video game on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, was not going to garner the support it needed, she considered shutting down the project altogether. Instead, the PhD student redirected her efforts, launching a second campaign and this time, reaching her goal.

“I could see quickly that it was not going to work out, and I was not scared to go, ‘Well that didn’t work out. Let me immediately try something else,’” Hunter said. “I think if I hadn’t gone through the [NUvention: Arts] class, I would have seen that first launch of the Kickstarter as a failure, ridden it out to the end, wouldn’t have made the goal, and then just figured ‘I guess it just wasn’t going to work.’”

From engineers to artists, all students have a chance to engage their entrepreneurial spirit in NUvention: Arts.

It’s no secret that digital technology has changed the way we read, listen, watch and participate in the arts. From Pandora to Vimeo to Snapchat, the ways in which we experience creative media are evolving rapidly. At the same time, entrepreneurship  is on the rise.

These artistic and business trends converge in NUvention: Arts, a course offered by Northwestern’s Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the McCormick School of Engineering in partnership with the School of Communications MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program. Led by Northwestern alum and music industry executive Gregg Latterman, NUvention: Arts uses lectures, case studies and guest speakers – Kickstarter co-founder Charles Adler spoke last spring - to give students a first-hand look at what it takes to start a creative arts company in an age of digital disruption. The interdisciplinary course, which Latterman will teach for the third time this spring, culminates in a team project that asks students to create and pitch an arts-minded business idea.

Related: Something Wicked, the Macbeth video game

Ahren Alexander, ‘16, knew early on in his Northwestern career that he was interested in entrepreneurship.  The engineering major also had a keen interest in music, and from the minute he learned about NUvention: Arts, he knew the course perfectly straddled his passions. His experience in the class not only exceeded his expectations, but Alexander said it was one of the best courses he took at Northwestern.

“We Skyped in with Beyonce’s manager, the CEO of Pandora, the lead singer of Train. It was awesome,” Alexander said. “There was also an opportunity to chat with entrepreneurs in the area, around Chicago. It was just phenomenal. That’s something I think is extremely important with entrepreneurship – being able to make those kinds of relationships.”

Alexander has been working on a modular speaker system called Audiovert since his sophomore year. Through NUvention: Arts, he was able to further develop his product.

Like Alexander, Hunter also found the varied perspectives of her NUvention: Arts classmates especially useful. A theatre student, Hunter was working alongside MBA and other masters-level students in the course. Not only that, being tasked with creating, rather than critiquing, was a welcome change. “It was super valuable for me to be in an environment where the goal is not deconstruction, but construction,” Hunter said.

From engineers like Alexander to artists like Hunter, all students have a chance to engage their entrepreneurial spirit in NUvention: Arts, and both Alexander and Hunter have continued using the lessons from the course in their creative pursuits. After a successful crowdfunding campaign last year, Alexander is reengineering the design of his product to make it friendlier for building, with more customizable and modular options.

Despite initial obstacles, and propelled by the success of her second crowdfunding campaign, Hunter aims to test an alpha version of Something Wicked by early spring, with a beta release in summer 2017.

The class, she said, provided her with an understanding of the language of entrepreneurship, and what it takes to get her ideas off the ground. It also gave her valuable connections to people who were able to advise her as she moved forward with Something Wicked.

“More than anything,” Hunter said, “it gave me the confidence to just do it.”  

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