School for Creative Start-ups teaches business know-how to creatives
The London School for Creative Start-ups teaches aspiring entrepreneurs in the creative sector all they need to know by giving them just core facts. The yearlong program - named “MBA for creatives” by the British Vogue – offers a series of tailor-made, very hands-on workshops free from acronyms and theory on how to successfully start and run a business.
Besides its unique method to teach, the school also connects its students with a great community of industry experts, who act as mentors. To name some, Anya Hindmarch, Natalie Massenet or David Bailey already support the school’s efforts.
Intrigued by the school’s philosophy that “entrepreneurs are made and taught, not born”, I asked the school’s creative director Medeia Cohan some questions about the program and found her passion for what she does contagious. Enjoy!
What do you think is the skill people need to learn most at School for Creative Start-ups?
I think the biggest hurdle plaguing creatives is a lack of confidence, a lack of self-belief. And I think because they haven’t been given the tools, it hasn’t been embedded into their curricula in school, it’s intimidating and as soon as you simplify it, as soon as you make it accessible for people they really pick it up. It’s something that can be taught and learned.
I also think there is a huge fear about selling versus selling out and maintaining your integrity and all those kinds of things. You don’t have to make that choice. You don’t have to sell out. For creative people it’s hard to overcome those kind of challenges. It’s intimidating.
Please tell us more about the application process. What do you look for?
I look for the innovation and the uniqueness of the idea, for a good chance of business success, for people who are really dedicated, who have done the research, who tried working toward something really dedicated to seeing it through. I look for people that I know we can help, that we can make a difference for.
I don’t want to waste anyone’s time and I don’t want to waste my time. If I don’t think I can help them, there is no point in having them on the course. And the last thing I look for is someone that I want to spend a really intense year helping. Because is someone difficult, it’s a very long year.
What is the range of businesses you support?
We have ten creative sub-sectors: Digital, Broadcast Media, Craft, Design, Fashion, Film, Culinary Arts, Performing Arts, Music, Communications and Fine Art. Quite honestly, if the idea comes from a creative place I am not that bothered. It just has to have the creativity at the heart of what it does.
What backgrounds do your students typically have?
I have a lot of moms who’ve been on maternity leave and don’t want to go back. I have a lot of people that have been made redundant that want to pursue their dream, and I have a lot of people who worked in the industry a long time, and they just know enough now that they want to do their own thing.
How does the Titans of the Industry program work?
The way that the Titans of the Industry program works is that we wanted to put together a network of people succeeding in or supporting the creative sector, and we wanted them to give back a bit. They have learned first hand how to do things and we wanted them to share their experiences.
The idea is that once the students have their act together in the second term, we give the students access to the Titans. They can ask them specific questions.
In the first term the students often don’t know what they don’t know. So they don’t know to ask the right questions to get answers. Actually what they are learning in that first six months is who they are, what they need to get where they want to go. At the end of those six months, they have their business plan, their funding model and their pitch down.
At the end of those six months we open with the showcase event that we do here in Sommerset House. All the Titans are invited to come and see all the students with their products or services. And from then on, we want the students to develop relationships with those people on their own.
I am not a fan of organic mentoring programs where they match you with someone. I think you have to find a mentor who really understands you and who you can work with really personally and really in-depth. The idea with this was to bring together a lot of people who could give a bit of time, not lots of time, but they can answer specific questions in the industry that they work in that we can’t help with. But I tell both sides I hope that the students endear themselves to the Titans and that they do develop these relationships. They need to know how to make the most out of those relationships by the time that we give them access to those people.
It’s a great resource and it’s a great endorsement for the school and it’s a great gateway to huge networks for the students. I am really proud of the Titans program and I am looking forward to them meeting this group.
How do you get access to the Titans? Do you seek them out or do they approach you?
It’s been a mixed bag. Some have approached us. The initial group we went and sought out and met with. But since then a lot of the Titans have recommended other people. It has been an incredible journey. What I’ve learned is that those kind of people aren’t being asked to kind of pass on their knowledge.
The uptake was so positive, it was so easy that I realized, so often people are asked to give money, or they are asked to give more than they are comfortable giving. But very rarely they are asked to give their experience and kind of pay it for a word.
In the creative sector people are much more willing to share and to work together, and I think it’s been a really nice realization that people are quite keen to do that. They just needed an opportunity and a forum to do it. The way that we do it at the program, and we protect them from being abused I think made it appealing to a wide audience.
In the future we would like to have a School for Start-ups in London that caters to the non-creative disciplines. We have one currently in Nigeria and another one in Romania. But that’s about it at the moment. I’d like to have one in London and I’d like to have School for Creative Start-ups globally in creative cities allover the world.
What do you like best about School for Creative Start-ups?
The cool thing about the School for Creative Start-ups is you’re on the course, you have all your peers of the year you’re in, you have the alumni peers, you’ve got the Titans, you’ve got staff. There’s a lot of people here to support you. You can bet that there’ll be at least a handful of people who can have a massive impact.
One of the things that I love is that it’s not sectorial. So it’s not all fashion people competing against one another, it’s a very mixed group, and everybody can help each other. It’s quite nice.
What would be your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Research and having a really solid mentor who can tell you the truth when you need to hear it. And tissues! There are a lot of tears in starting a business – it’s hard work, and it can be a lonely work.
What do you think is the key ingredient it takes to become successful? Is it the often-cited perseverance or what is it?
I think there is a certain amount of persistence and there is a certain amount of crazy self-belief that you need to make anything work. But I also think you need to know when to listen and you need to know when to throw the talent and go “okay, I’ve learned something here, now I am moving on to my next project. That was just not gonna work.”
Do you have a recommended source of reading?
There is a really great website, called the Indie Retail Academy. She talks about how to sell through stores, and how to work with retailers. I like her site a lot and I think her tone is really good. One of the things for me is about communicating really simply and communicating a way your audience can understand it. Not to talk down to people and not to act like there is some secret they don’t know. I think one of the problems in business is people aren’t always honest.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
We’ve got a great group of students and we’re looking for brilliant applicants for next year, and I don’t care for where they are coming from. I just want dedicated, brilliant students.
It’s so much fun to be a part of. I feel so spoiled and blessed to be able to be a part of their adventures and fun. And going to their store openings and seeing them on a shelf in shops, it’s really fun. I got a pretty cool job.