Actually, this was a paper I wrote. I might start futzing with it until its an actual open letter...
One phrase from Dahlstrand and Politis’ study, “Women business ventures in Swedish university incubators” really stood out to me--
“Clearly in this paper, incubators with support from the national incubator programme are found to dominantly target ventures in the life sciences, ICT, Clean tech and manufacturing industries, excluding a large number of sectors where women are dominating. This means that Swedish incubators targeting, for example, design and art, are not supported by the national incubator programme.”
This statement eerily sums up a lot of my experience since landing at UP campus to join the Entrepreneurship and Innovation major. And even this phrase—the acknowledgement of my situation—is having a very meta-level effect on me. Because while they do mention the problem, they only mention it. They mention it once.
Allow me an interlude to give some background. I have been trying to come to peace with my status as “the only artist in the room” in most of my business classes and practically all of the industry events that I have had the pleasure to attend since coming to The University of Portland. While it may be nice to have a “corner of the information market” all to myself, it is extremely isolating and feels invalidating, too. There are incubators and grants and paths to follow for entrepreneurs who can also code, or who are engineers or who are in medicine, for example. When trying to find people to join my failing startup, it was shocking to me that no one in my business class seemed to have any artistic extracurricular activities. The writer who was briefly interested in my project turned it down because he realized I was looking for a creative writer.
He suggested the English department.
Apparently creative writers are English majors.
I can’t figure out how so few of my fellow entrepreneurs are artists. Practically every artist I know in the market is an entrepreneur of some kind (you have to be, because no one is hiring you). That’s the very reason that I gravitated toward this major in the first place—to assist in my entrepreneurial struggles and those of my fellow starving artists.
And I do believe that there is a lot of potential in the art of entrepreneurship. This field requires a passion and creativity that is abundant in the arts and humanities. I do believe that a lot more could be accomplished by more multidisciplinary endeavors that includes the—shall I say—“softer” studies. But in the meantime, while it was required to have an engineering major on your team to enter for an incubator contest held recently, no such accommodations were made for a fine arts major.
This has put me at odds with my own major and several of my classes. While I find the faculty to be extremely supportive, the infrastructure thus far has occasionally been off-target for my needs as a creative businessperson. And while it has been thoroughly worthwhile, I have been stumped while trying to use some of my new tools on my home business. The tools—as handed to me—are not necessarily made for artists. Many things require me to adapt the framework thoroughly or to set it aside as a “purely theoretical.” Marketing was a huge example of this—while deciding on product first and then finding a market for it is taught to be the worst marketing strategy of all time, it is exactly what an artist is doing. When I asked for insight into the matter, there wasn’t much to be offered to me as options or tactics for business survival.
Given that this is where I am coming from, I am finding the fine incubators and accelerators in Portland are similarly-situated. Five of the ten companies listed are specifically designed for technology-based, digital, cleantech, and/or bioscience endeavors. Portland Seed Fund is honest enough to label themselves as “sector agnostic” while admitting that they favor software/mobile companies. Depending on what the heck that means, this leaves me with four. Of those four, none of them (with the possible exception of PIE, as they are partnered with a famously creative marketing firm) seem to cater to the artistic endeavor any more than the others.
This is not necessarily a problem in and of itself. Plenty of the incubators place a lot of focus on the growth stage of the business they are assisting. So, if I have a business that is ready to move forward with my spatial capacity (Regus) or if I am ready to start creating jobs (Gorge Innoventure) then there are tools to help bring an already-promising business to greater success.
In other words, there are simply more options in Portland for a technically focused startup. I do not necessarily think that this is a bad thing—clearly we need this industry and far be it from me to devalue the funding needed for clean technology and life-saving bio-technology. But this does mean that my options are not just limited, but said options frequently require me to know a lot more about the personal standing of my business before setting out.
In a sense, what this becomes is that an artist requires more proof of concept than someone who is doing what has been deemed as more essential work. I am beginning to believe that the tools required to incubate an artist-entrepreneur (dare I coin the phrase “artrepreneur”?) are somewhat specialized, and artistic or humanities centered businesses could deeply benefit from their own class of incubators. But as it stands now, the artists will be competing for the same attention that the consumer-facing products business are, and frequently with less easily capitalized results.