Guest Columnist

Identifying a new niche for creativity

Guest columnistJanuary 28, 2013 

There is a monthly networking dinner called “groundworkk,” where people present their concepts and take questions from the audience. The audience then votes for its favorite concept.

Here’s the twist: Everyone who shows up drops $5 in a jar, and the winner gets the money.

When I heard about groundworkk’s event, I thought: I’m either going to really hate this, or I’m going to learn something.

Here’s what I learned: The recent, nationwide entrepreneurial movement is fueled mostly by high-tech/high-growth startups.

However, there is another support structure building for a new creative class of entrepreneurs, such as the ones who filled the jar at Mercury Studios in Durham earlier this month.

Mystery Brewing, a craft brewery in Hillsborough, was founded by Erik Myers, a former techie whose real passion is brewing beer.

Myers quit his job and built a business using some of the same methods as high-tech/high-growth startups, including pitching investors, beta testing and blogging.

He also raised more than $44,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, and raised additional funds through private investors. But instead of slinging code, he’s slinging hops. Everything else still applies.

Mercury Studio’s co-working space is full of paying customers who are creative entrepreneurs, not high-tech/high-growth entrepreneurs who are backed by venture capitalists and striving to be the next big thing.

“The startup community doesn’t know what to do with us,” said Katie DeConto, community director of Mercury, referring to the co-working space.

The same is true for groundworkk, which also caters to the creative set. People show up to these events to pitch their ideas. And even though winning money in a jar is great, it isn’t capital.

“I could do it without the five dollars, possibly,” said Matt Konar, groundworkk’s founder. “But only if it were replaced with something else that people had to give.”

Is the $5 an investment? No, but in a sense, it is. When people put money in the jar, the return is a better community that the contributors helped build.

The money jar is not too different from Kickstarter, which allows backers to pledge to campaigns with hopes that their venture will succeed.

So what should the entrepreneurial community make of the creatives crowd that includes groundworkk, Mercury Studios and Mystery Brewing?

High-tech/high-growth is its own thing, with its own issues. However, this creative class is just as valid, but with different needs, problems and goals.

I recognize the validity and the difference between the two. Lumping them together, which is what happens when that cash jar is called “capital,” isn’t the right answer. But not recognizing and celebrating them for what they are is a mistake.

Joe Procopio is a serial entrepreneur, writer and speaker. Follow him on Twitter @jproco and online at joeprocopio.com

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