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Mark Hoelscher
Director, Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies
Illinois State University
Posted 11.1.2006


Could you describe Illinois State University's Arts Entrepreneurship efforts?

Right now there are only two business classes for Arts majors - Entrepreneurship in the Arts 1 and Entrepreneurship in the Arts 2. This is the only current effort by the College of Business to reach out to the College of Fine Arts Students. However, I am involved in another (somewhat different) interdisciplinary effort with the College of Applied Science and Technology. The main benefit I can see coming from this interdisciplinary approach is that we can all play to our strengths; the College of Fine Arts students for their creativity, the College of Applied Science and Technology students for their strong technical background and ability for rapid prototype development, and the College of Business students for their strong business backgrounds - both in breadth and depth.

Was the genesis for your class a request from the Arts units, an independent effort from the College of Business or student demand?

The class arose from interest expressed by the College of Fine Arts Music Business program. It is currently open to all College of Fine Arts students but is mainly populated by those in Music Business. The class began through a generous grant from the Coleman Foundation to help us get the program off to a running start.

Could you describe your class? What are the core competencies, objectives and expected outcomes?

The Entrepreneurship in the Arts 1 class involves a focused, "nuts and bolts" approach to running a small, lifestyle oriented business. We get around the lack of business background by most students through a very focused approach. There simply is not time to give them a breadth of business knowledge that they would probably have very little use for anyway. Therefore, we focus our approach in very practical areas. First we identify the difference between a seriously growth oriented entrepreneurial endeavor and a lifestyle business. We recognize the possibility and the existence of such a business but in practical terms, note that most of these students are after a way to practice their artistic passion in a more lifestyle-oriented setting. We then move into forms of ownership, various basic skills and abilities such as bookkeeping, inventory etc. Also, we look at ways of determining personal suitability for becoming a small business owner; then to opportunity recognition, idea generation, assessment, analysis, all leading to a breakeven analysis, feasibility study and eventually a go/no go decision on the chosen idea. Entrepreneurship in the Arts 2 is business plan development. This is a stretch for some because it involves a more in-depth knowledge base.

How long have you been teaching your "Entrepreneurship in the Arts 1" course? Will there be an "Entrepreneurship in the Arts 2?"

I have been teaching this particular course for three years, once a year. As noted above, there already is an Entrepreneurship in the Arts 2 but it has yet to make. I think it intimidates the non-College of Business Student. This semester, however, I have four students from the College of Fine Arts who plan to take the course (Business Plan Development) as an independent study with me.

Are there any plans to expand Illinois State's commitment to arts entrepreneurship?

Expansion is always my dream but right now, there are no plans in the works.

How are the Fine Arts units responding to your class?

The students are responding quite well and the class had near the maximum number of students allowed. However, it has been harder to garner excitement from Fine Arts faculty. I think it is hard for Fine Arts to view a relationship with business as anything less than making a deal with the devil.

Your class stresses group work. How do your students respond to working in groups?

Definitely something they are not used to. However, they quickly understand the benefits of working in groups, especially when their business knowledge base is weak. There are more brains, and braun to go out and get the answers when working in groups.

The capstone project in your class is a feasibility study. What are the reasons for this choice?

I think that a feasibility study is a necessary first step towards the making of an entrepreneur and the fulfilling of a dream. The first thing an entrepreneur needs to know is how to sort through all of the seemingly wonderful ideas and find the one worthy of all of the time and effort that a professional business plan requires. Most folks call what they do a business plan but in reality they are also conducting a feasibility study. The difference is in the depth of information required and the time necessary. I contend that a feasibility study should be capable of being done over a hard weekend. Perhaps that is a little bit of an overstatement but a feasibility study certainly should be done in less that one third of the time of a properly done business plan.

How are students responding to your class?

Quite well, though there are some who bolt around mid-semester when they realize that work is actually required - but that isn’t always the case. The problem is the amount of background information to gather; these students have no business knowledge on which to build.

Can you share any student success stories?

I have two that I would like to share.

The first involves an arts student who draws in charcoal or pencil. He draws beautifully and his idea was to draw portraits for celebrities or anyone who wishes. After he went through the breakeven analysis however, he looked at me and said, “This will not work. There are not enough famous people in the area." I suggested that he take the weekend and consider his talent and how else he could apply it. When he came back to me he had changed his idea from portraits to architectural rendering of houses. It seems that he had visited several area architects over the weekend with his work and had gotten rave reviews. He finished his feasibility study, went to work for local architectural firms in the area and, to my knowledge, has been successful ever since.

The second is shorter. I had a student who was a metal worker (castings). He listened attentively for about two thirds of the semester. He had developed a way in which to turn the practicing of his art into a bit of a spectator sport (much as Krispy Kreme does the making of their donuts). He came in to me one morning and said that he had found an angel investor and needed to drop my class in order to go make his first million. What could I say? More power to him! (He already had the credits to graduate, he was just holding off to take my class).

It has always been my contention that this class performs a great public service to these students. Without it, they risk having a job they are no good at because they have no passion for the enterprise. Thus, they try to practice their passion at night; that inevitably fails because of time constraints.