Alice Loy has a message for young entrepreneurs who might have spiked hair, a tattoo and a business idea nobody understands: Get in touch.
Loy is co-founder along with Tom Aageson of Creative Startups, perhaps the first business accelerator program in the world devoted to commercializing artistic passion.
When Loy talks with many new artists, she may not understand what they are trying to do. But that’s OK, “Most creative people are building something we don’t get,” said Loy.
Loy spoke at a forum on “Creative Startups and Capital,” sponsored by Coronado Ventures Forum, last week at Meow Wolf. Other panelists were Vince Kadlubek, co-founder of Meow Wolf, and Amanda Solosky, co-founder of Rival Theory, a gaming and artificial intelligence business in Albuquerque.
The moderator was Santa Fe resident Francine Sommer, a Columbia University business school graduate who has handled venture investments across the country.
The Creative Startups program takes those with ideas and immerses them in the world of product development, finance, marketing, sales, law, accounting, media and computers for intensive hands-on workshops. The program teams the potential business owners with mentors, experts, even angel investors.
Applications for the Albuquerque class open May 28 and run through July 9, with the session starting Aug. 28. It ends with a weekend-long “deep dive” where all the individuals converge at a hotel for intensives and final presentations Oct. 23–27. Creative industries also include culinary arts, architecture, advertising, fashion, film, performing arts and music.
The nonprofit is backed by organizations that have funded business development initiatives, including the Kauffman Foundation, the U.S. Small Business Administration, the National Science Foundation and New Mexico Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, a research and technology collaborative aimed at boosting STEM jobs.
One business that emerged from the process is Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf arts collective, which decided to incorporate as a for-profit venture after going through the accelerator program.
Meow Wolf opened The House of Eternal Return in an old bowling alley in Santa Fe. Its managers estimated it would draw 100,000 visitors the first year but saw four times that many. First-year revenues topped $6 million with profit of $1 million, which can now be reinvested in other Meow Wolf ventures such as expanding to other cities — Austin, Texas, or Denver are the top prospects.
While Creative Startups launched in New Mexico, the effort has expanded to host accelerators in the country of Kuwait and the city of Winston-Salem, N.C. Applications will open for all three programs this spring.
For Kadlubek, the program “connected us to a network of people,” and that helped Meow Wolf raise $1.7 million in capital before opening the doors to its installation in March 2016.
The message from others on the panel was that New Mexico can put itself on the map for creative businesses.
Solosky, an Albuquerque native and graduate of the MBA program at The University of New Mexico, said larger metropolitan areas like San Francisco can be “echo chambers,” where one idea often takes hold and rises to the top.
Not so in New Mexico, where those who live in Earthships can live next door to a cowboy or a game creator. She said New Mexico has diverse human capital, which is important in developing work that has broad appeal.
Loy, who has lived and worked in Mexico, Costa Rica, Spain and China, emphasized that, “No one said to Meow Wolf, ‘That’s not what they’re doing in New York or L.A.’ ”
“Have more courage in being different, not being the same. That’s our strength” in New Mexico, she said.
Sommer had the same message for investors. “You have to think out of the box as well,” she said. “I really feel like New Mexico is leading the charge on creating these tyes of companies.”
For more information on Creative Startups, go to www. creativestartups.org.