“Good business is the best art,” Andy Warhol declared, and likewise, good art can be the basis for better business.
MIT STARTUP, a new arts entrepreneurship initiative, supports arts-based entrepreneurial projects at every stage of development — from ideation to acceleration to launch. The initiative is presented by MIT’s Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST), in partnership with the Sloan School of Management’s Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship.
Sam Magee, one of the principle organizers of MIT STARTUP, points out, “The arts are an integral part of the start-up process. MIT STARTUP recognizes that creative thinking and innovation are fueled by the artistic mind, and this initiative offers an arena in which students are encouraged and supported in their creative endeavors.” The Boston Globe recently reported, arts and cultural organizations create 45,000 area jobs and contribute $1 billion to the local economy. Acknowledging the role of the arts in both the startup process and wider economic growth, MIT STARTUP adds to the Institute’s strong history of entrepreneurship and innovation.
The program launched in October with the Hacking Arts festival and hackathon, and culminates in May with the $15K Creative Arts award, a track in the MIT $100K competition, which recognizes the most promising startup plan with arts or design at its core. The initiative also includes a new STARTUP maker space equipped with state-of-the-art digital fabrication equipment and a speaker series on arts entrepreneurship, "Arts Innovation in the Digital Age."
“We are thrilled to be launching this new initiative that combines MIT’s dynamic entrepreneurial culture with its deep heritage in arts and design,” says Leila W. Kinney, executive director of arts initiatives at MIT. “Ever since the presidency of Jerome H. Wiesner in the 1970s, MIT has incorporated the arts as a conduit of innovation, believing them to be essential to the creative environment of a research institution renowned for science and engineering.”
Hacking Arts, an annual student-run festival and hackathon hosted at the MIT Media Lab October 3-5, marked the launch of MIT STARTUP. Hacking Arts features talks by entrepreneurs in the creative industries, tech-enabled live performances and art pieces, and demos by emergent startups. This year’s kick-off party at Microsoft's Nerd Center featured a performance by Grammy-nominated artist Ryan Leslie and an ideation session by Kiran Gandhi, the drummer of MIA.
The following day, participants attended panels on film, music, design, virtual reality, fashion, gaming, performing arts, and visual arts, hearing from speakers such as Benji Rogers, CEO of Pledgemusic; Kevin Cunningham, executive artistic director of 3-Legged Dog Productions; and Laird Malamed, COO of Oculus VR. Afterward, participants put their ideas into action during the high-voltage hackathon.
The 2014 Hackathon winners were LuxLoop (VHX Prize in Film, TV & VR), Harlequin (Most Creative), CUE (Most Disruptive) and Tomorrow Is Another Day (Best Overall Hack). A common thread among the winning hacks was how technology was used to promote human interaction or create analogue output. LuxLoop and Harlequin both used human motion to affect digital output. CUE, one of the finalists in the Pitch phase of the competition, designed a modular theatrical system consisting of wearable audiovisual hardware and a smartphone app to sequence, control, and play user-programmed sound and light effects to enhance public theater. Tomorrow Is Another Day touted the idea, “Turn your nothing into something,” as their project used a person’s daily “swipes” on touch-screen devices to transform daily online activities into abstract ink drawings.
Pitch, Accelerate, and Launch are the three phases to the MIT $100K competition. Three of the 21 finalists in the Pitch Competition were from the creative arts: Cue, Sonabos, and Sprout. To help teams prepare for the MIT 100K Accelerate competition, Hacking Arts Remix brings together participants in Hacking Arts, as well as new members, for an evening of constructive feedback, mentoring, and community-building in Room E14-341 of the Media Lab on Wednesday, Dec. 3. The deadline for MIT 100k Accelerate is Dec. 5.
In the spring, MIT’s arts entrepreneurs can bring their startup to the next level by competing for the $15K Creative Arts Track within the MIT $100K entrepreneurship competition, one of the largest and oldest student-run startup competitions in the world. Recognizing the natural synergy between entrepreneurship and the creative industries, the prize seeds startups that incorporate an innovative use of art into their business plans. Judges include established MIT alumni artists, engineers, executives, and entrepreneurs.
“Coming from MIT, the prize establishes our company at the intersection of art and technology,” says Kim Gordon, winner of the 2013 Creative Arts Prize and co-founder of the startup Depict.com. “There are few companies that have both a deep artistic vision while also having a compelling business model,” says judge Eran Egozy ’95, MEng ’95, a co-founder of Harmonix, the company behind the massively successful game “Guitar Hero.” “It’s certainly not easy,” he says, “but it is exactly the kind of challenge that suits MIT students.”
To further bolster arts entrepreneurship, a newly constructed MIT STARTUP maker space in MIT’s Student Art Association studios will feature digital fabrication technologies alongside other tools to help bring innovative ideas to fruition. The space will unite a cross-disciplinary community of artists, entrepreneurs, engineers, designers, and scientists to design, prototype, and fabricate the next generation of disruptive ideas for the arts.
The speaker series "Arts Innovation in the Digital Age" exposes MIT students to documentary storytellers and other arts professionals who are pioneering new forms of artistic practice. Elaborating on concepts such as cross-platform, immersive media, and documentary games, the five speakers in this series share their experience, practice, distribution models, and creative platforms with MIT students from a variety of disciplines. Photojournalist Karim Ben Khelifa, a fellow at the MIT OpenDocLab and the 2013 Carroll Binder Fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, spoke of his work, "The Enemy," a project at the crossroad between neurosciences, artificial intelligence, and storytelling. Filmmaker Suvi Andrea Helminen, also a fellow at the MIT OpenDocLab, discussed her use of interactivity and game design in her documentaries. Journalist and filmmaker David Dufresne speaks February 10, followed by additional lectures on March 3 and April 14. Each talk takes place from 12-1:30 p.m.