Being an artist and being an entrepreneur are not mutually exclusive. In fact, committed artists – those who want to make an actual living from their passion – recognize that, and work to become business savvy.
Painter Melissa Falconer and photographer Jessica Kalman, who are studying and met at Laurier, hope to bypass the “starving artist” phase. They’ve just been accepted into the Schlegel Centre’s LaunchPad program for their innovative art enterprise, www.jessandmel.com.
Let’s start at the beginning, though, when only one of them knew she wanted to be a professional artist – but thought it wouldn’t be economically feasible.
One glance at Falconer’s website (www.mfalconer.com) and you know she has the goods. Her portraits and pop art (Drake, Jon Snow), often captured in her vlogs, are truly exceptional. But did she opt to study Fine Arts? No. She went into Accounting. Yes. Accounting.
“When I was deciding what I wanted to do, I really didn’t think art was a realistic career choice,” the 22-year-old Ajax native admits. “I had always been interested in business, too. I chose Laurier for the strong entrepreneurial spirit surrounding the school.
“And then I met people here who were actively turning their passions into careers, so I started investigating it. And in fourth year, that’s when change happened for me. That’s when I realized I had opportunities for my art as my career.”
As it happens, that’s also the year Falconer met second-year student Kalman, in ENTR200: Entrepreneurial Process. Kalman, 21 and from Waterloo, was studying Communications but thought the course might help with the photography business she ran on the side. Again, the talent at www.jesskal.com is evident.
“I didn’t really think I’d be on this road I’m on now,” Kalman acknowledges of her joint art venture with Falconer. “I just thought the course would give me some insight into my photography business.”
Falconer, on the other hand, had enrolled “to figure out a way to make my pop art business more scalable, so I could make it into a career instead of a side business.”
During a group project, the two started talking. They quickly discovered they had art in common. They both also shared an enjoyment of ENTR200, learning from the many “inspiring, special guests” that professor Laura Allan brought in.
But it was something the prof herself said that “made a light bulb go off for us,” as Falconer puts it. “The prof said the best opportunity for entrepreneurship is NOW because there are so many people around you wanting the same thing. Right after that, Jess and I headed off to start talking about ideas.”
Shortly thereafter, the duo attempted something that combined their talents and was well received: Kalman took photographs of nine men for the Art of Movember, and Falconer painted those photographs on a separate canvas.
“It’s how we got our feet wet,” Kalman says. “It got a lot of interest from the community. People liked the art we were doing. That was the first step.”
That has evolved into www.jessandmel.com, a business where Kalman’s photography is transformed by Falconer painting right on top of it. The signature “unique art for your unique life” can essentially be anything an individual might wish to capture: a moment, a face, a home, a pet, a store, a restaurant… the possibilities seem endless.
But are they? Or is there one that’s clearly better? It’s with great excitement that the myriad of possibilities will be explored, as the pair has recently been accepted into the Schlegel Centre’s LaunchPad program. LaunchPad is the business incubator for Laurier students and alumni, providing much sought-after resources and critical mentorships. Kalman and Falconer were accepted because their start-up idea was deemed to have merit.
Indeed, the two will spend this summer working on a catalogue for their current primary market – interior designers – that will encompass K-W landmarks. Taking their business to the next level and testing it through LaunchPad may or may not see a shift in that thinking. But that’s the point: to test and reiterate until a business, service or product is optimal.
“What really appealed to us when we did the Entrepreneurship course was being surrounded with like-minded people who could give us more insights into what to do next. It’s really exciting to get a different viewpoint; you just have to be open-minded to other people’s opinions,” Falconer advises.
It was the Entrepreneurial Process course that brought all of this about, and both artists highly recommend it.
“Art product is like any other product,” Falconer says, pragmatically. “It stems from a creative state but, when it comes down to it, you have to consider your target market. Instead of just creating anything we think is great, we have to consider what aspects of our style the market would most like, and focus more on that.”
“We learned,” Kalman summarizes, “to merge the art side and the business side. After every lecture, there was something we could immediately take back and ask, ‘How can we apply this to what we’re doing right now?’
“And you know what? We always could.”
The story of Cole Jones’ foray into entrepreneurship didn’t start with the dream of building an empire or becoming the next Zuckerberg. Cole, who studied Honours Philosophy at Laurier and graduated in 2015, was inspired by something simpler but much more important: food.
“We wanted to help farmers. It quickly grew from that, but it was the simple premise that food grown closest to you is the most difficult to access and typically the most expensive That seemed really backwards and we knew things needed to change.”
Cole’s company, Local Line, connects chefs to local food suppliers through its web portal. It also provides cost tracking and invoicing, so that both the restaurants and suppliers using Local Line can easily manage their revenues and costs.
Beyond providing benefits to its two customer bases, Local Line is providing a service that makes it easier for us to eat locally. “Eating locally isn’t just important to me as a business owner. It’s critically important to everybody,” Cole says.
Putting in the work to change the way we eat
With his vision fuelling his fire, Cole set to work to make Local Line a viable business. In his third year at Laurier, he joined Laurier’s LaunchPad program. There, aspiring entrepreneurs learn the Lean Startup Methodology, where they constantly validate their ideas and adapt to what the market needs and is willing to pay for. At the beginning, Cole admits there was no mythical light-bulb moment where he knew he was on to something.
“Ideas don’t just happen. You have to be passionate enough about a problem that you’ll spend all your time trying to solve it.”
In August 2014, Cole had mastered the methodology and graduated from the LaunchPad program. Now, over a year later, Local Line is barrelling full-steam ahead. “Having Laurier’s support got us to the point where we had customers, a team, and enough traction to raise our first round of seed capital,” Cole remarks.
Today, Local Line continues to apply what was learned in LaunchPad – the team is constantly validating and iterating their programming, sales techniques, roadmap, and marketing. The way Cole describes it is, “It’s not about being right; it’s about making mistakes faster than anyone else. It means that you’ll arrive at a good, solid solution sooner rather than later.”
Fighting the Good Food Fight
Local Line just launched the new version of its web platform. It goes beyond e-commerce and leverages the data it gathers: Each chef gets a customized report that shows their food costs in an infographic and breaks it down so that he or she can adjust on the fly. Food suppliers and farmers also have access to Local Line’s reporting features, can fully control their own virtual storefront, and are given optimized delivery maps that help them get their food in the hands of those who will cook it.
“Local food is much more than just a trend,” Cole says. His team of six will continue to bring together local food suppliers and chefs, and scale to other regions. It is the founder’s hope that the food model can be changed one region at a time, so that statistics like this one will no longer be true: the average food product in the world travels 1,200 KM’s from farm to plate. In Ontario, the average is 4,500 KM’s.
If Cole has taught us one thing, it’s to think of the big picture. With each of your three meals a day, consider where the ingredients were grown, were shipped from, and were stored. We all have a part to play in the demand for a better food economy, and Local Line is leading the way.