How to turn your creative idea into a sustainable business

Co-working space. Image via Shutterstock. 

A joint initiative between the State Library of Victoria (SLV) and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), – Foundry658 – is helping creatives gain the skills required to transform their ideas into sustainable businesses.

The program, funded by Creative Victoria, is designed in two phases, to support creative business ideas to develop or shift to more sustainable business models, and for those looking to scale their existing business ideas.

The program is open to independent artists and organisations, commercial creative enterprises, early-stage entrepreneurs and creatives who have started a business or are committed to launching one. Based at the State Library and ACMI, the 10-day Foundry658 ‘bootcamps’ will each give up to 25 selected participants the opportunity to work with leading mentors and coaches to help them test their concept and gain valuable skills relevant to emerging start-ups. 

Following the bootcamps, 10 of the participants will be selected for a three-month accelerator program, receiving $20,000 to help take their ideas to market.

‘The bootcamps offer a system of support and tools to help creators really think through their idea and what its potential could be from a business perspective,’ said Anna Burkey, the co-producer of Foundry658 and head of the State Library’s entrepreneurship service, StartSpace.

According to Burkey, one of the problems creatives face when they try to start a business is an inability to separate their art from what clients actually want.

‘I think one of the challenges for creatives is that they put their heart and soul into an incredible piece of work and they’re looking at it from the perspective of trying to get that work out into the world without looking at it from a business perspective which would be: “What problem am I trying to solve and what does my customer need?”’ Burkey said.

‘So we help businesses to find the tools they need and to check what their audience or customers want, so that whatever they make, they don’t waste money building the wrong thing.’

The co-working space at ACMI X. Image: Andrew McColl.

Helen Simondson is the co-producer of Foundry658 and head of ACMI X, a co-working space and home to the ACMI Xcel creative tech accelerator program. Simondson said the Foundry658 program is the perfect launch pad for creatives looking to test their ideas.  

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‘The bootcamp is about testing your idea and seeing if you’ve got the right business model to have a sustainable income, while the accelerator program is designed to scale that idea really quickly, seeing if it has the capacity to be successful in other markets, industries and countries ,’ said Simondson.  

‘The accelerator and bootcamps were designed for people who come from an arts rather than a business background,’ she explained. ‘The programs aren’t an MBA, they’re not teaching traditional business models. It’s about rigorously testing your product and getting  instant feedback on it. The aim is to reach a point where you can accelerate your idea significantly to either launch it or to get investors interested in it. 

‘No-one should be fearful of thinking, “I haven’t done business before,” that’s exactly what these programs are designed for.’

Burkey agreed, suggesting potential applicants shouldn’t be discouraged if their idea is still in its infancy.

‘I think a lot of people who have great business ideas worry that it’s not developed enough to have a go and I would just encourage them to try.The application process itself can be a helpful process to go through to refine their idea,’ she said.

Taking your idea to the world stage

For many, launching a business can be daunting and, according to Simondson, many people seek to launch before they know their market or what problem they are solving. Taking a more radical approach, the bootcamps teach participants to focus on the problems that need to be solved before they launch.

‘What the start-up methodology says is, “no you don’t have to have any of the answers.” Instead you should talk to as many people as you can to find out what their industry needs, where the gaps are and how your product can meet those needs,’ said Simondson.

‘Often people will come to the bootcamp with an idea and completely pivot and change once they start to get feedback. They figure out from their market and from their customer validation that it’s possibly not really right and their idea shifts. So it’s an environment where change is really expected and we’re looking at people’s capacity to change, and we encourage them to think about how to scale their idea – this is really important.’

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Tech creatives at the ACMI X co-working space. Image: Andrew McColl. 

So how would someone go about scaling an idea? Simondson said it’s all about thinking big.

‘If you were an installation artist, you might look at finding ways to tour your product,’ she said. ‘Ensuring your product can be installed in a number of environments and really thinking through the types of institutions or galleries that have touring products ,’ she said.

Burkey said developing the thinking around how to make a creative business successful can be challenging without the correct tools.

‘It’s really hard when you’re doing it by yourself, you can’t have all the right skills,’ she said. ‘I find that the biggest challenge is that people don’t know where to start and they don’t know what skills they need to help them in their business. So this program will look at your business and diagnose the kind of things you need.’

Applications for bootcamp 2 close on 14 November 2018 with the program running from 1-21 February 2019. For more information visit . 

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