Peter Marsh first met Rebeccah Byer last fall at an event sponsored by the Center for Creative Economy (CCE) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Byer is the founder of The Olio, a glass-blowing and creative entrepreneurship center. Marsh is the CEO of Workplace Strategies, a planning firm, and has nearly two decades of experience in sales, marketing, and physical product design.
As the two began to talk they realized that an idea of Byer’s might just be something they could both leverage their expertise on. The idea centered on developing a new product line that took already served wine and beer bottles, and up-cycling them into glasses and barware she could then sell back to the bars.
At a second event she and Marsh connected again, and as the idea developed Rebeccah and the Olio team were chosen to be part of Upstart Live, a weekend-long workshop that takes participant companies from startup to market in just 48 hours.
Over the course of the weekend, teams worked on marketing, finance, customer identification, business operations and product development. By Sunday, Byer had beautiful graphics and financial models that got her and her team on their way to starting production on the barware line.
Proximity and Connections
Those two words are foundational secrets in creative, entrepreneurial success. And Winston-Salem, in transitioning from a manufacturing to a knowledge-based economy, seems to have both two elements.
That example of two people with complementary strengths is a favorite of Margaret Collins. She’s the founder and executive director of CCE, and in her 4+ years of running the organization she’s been connecting both ideas and people at an amazing pace.
As part of their mission—to stimulate connections between innovators and business—Collins and her team launched Swerve this past fall (the event that Byer and Marsh first met at). It’s an online and in-person environment for creative people to brainstorm and gain business experience, and she sees it as a way for entrepreneurs to connect their passions with business.
“It’s a hub for creative professionals who are dedicated to growing our creative community,” Collins says. Swerve hosts regular, lively meetings about creative entrepreneurship, an online job platform, and offers workshops on various business topics, including preparing a creative business to be investor-ready. “Many people who start creative enterprises may not be thinking about what they have to do to get investors. This is one way we help them.”
With Swerve, Collins and CCE are tackling a pervasive economic development shortfall when it comes to creative startups. Too often, efforts to grow regional creative economies are focused around externally marketing a community’s arts and culture assets—such as museums, music halls or local galleries. Such a strategy is civic-planning centric: Develop an arts neighborhood and people will visit.
Growing Creative Economies Directly
But organic growth of the creative economy requires focused business-to-business connections, and business-to-creative entrepreneur touch points. Organizations like CCE, and its Swerve program, concentrate on locating creative people in the same space, hosting events, connecting those with knowledge and skills to those who need them. It is the strong mentors and expert connections that spur creative company startup and growth.
And the Center for Creative Economy takes that lesson to heart, too. They’re located within Flywheel, a co-working space in the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter. Part real estate development, part campus, the area is home to 50 companies, 3,100 workers, 2,000 students—and plenty of creative energy. The Wake Forest project began as a biomedical research and innovation campus housed in the former R.J. Reynolds tobacco plant, and has since blossomed into something much bigger: Academics, innovative startups and established companies sharing a campus-like development through which relationships like the one formed between Marsh and Byer can develop.
The purpose of CCE and Swerve, Collins says, “is to enable these catalytic things to happen,” such as The Olio’s connections and participation in Upstart Live. The sharing of ideas and the energy created from such connections is providing creative entrepreneurs with both expertise and a vibrant opportunities to meet, collaborate and build companies.
And for founders like Rebeccah Byer that means getting to see uniquely creative ideas come to life, too.