Alice Loy, PhD, Co-founder & CEO, Creative Startups
Alice Loy is co-founder of Creative Startups and widely considered a leading authority on entrepreneurship in the creative economy. Dr. Loy created the Creative Startups Accelerator with a vision for catalyzing high growth company formation in the under-served creative economy.
A sought-after speaker on topics ranging from developing creative economy ecosystems to investing in the creative economy, Alice frequently travels to Europe, Asia, and Latin America to work with entrepreneurs and economic development leaders. Alice has lived and worked in Mexico, Costa Rica, Spain, and China. She holds a PhD in Strategic Communication and Entrepreneurship and an MBA. She speaks Spanish fluently.
Tom Aageson, Co-Founder (emeritus), Creative Startups
Tom Aageson is co-founder of Creative Startups. He is also the co-founder of the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, the largest folk art market in the world. Tom was VP of Marketing and Merchandising at Mystic Seaport, where he created the Mystic Maritime Art Gallery along with other startups. Tom led artisan entrepreneurs from 20 countries into international markets as Director of Aid to Artisans. He holds an MBA from Columbia University, a BFT from the Graduate School of International Management and a BA in Economics from Marquette University.
Alice and Tom are the co-authors of the book Creative Economy Entrepreneurs: From Startup to Success: How Startups in the Creative Industries are Transforming the Global Economy.
The Creative Economy Revolution
The creative economy opens many doors for entrepreneurs,businesses, and communities. An empowering capability of the creative economy is discovering unexpected benefits in unexpected places. Creative Startups sparks a revolution in the creative economy by bringing together diverse entrepreneurs to create exciting and innovative companies.
Join the conversation on how creative talent generates exciting opportunities of change for individuals, companies, and communities.
Listen to more: Activate World
The Creative Economy Revolution
Alice Loy, PhD, Co-founder & CEO, Creative Startups
Tom Aageson, Co-Founder (emeritus), Creative Startups
Season 3, Episode 4
Jon Mertz: 00:02 Welcome to the Activate World podcast, a series on how business leaders have more power to solve societal issues than any elected official. We explore business activism with substance and depth of thought. Welcome to another episode of Activate World.
We’re excited to have the two co-founders of Creative Startups with us today, Alice Loy and Tom Aageson. They’re also the co-authors of the book Creative Economy Entrepreneurs: From Startup to Success: How Entrepreneurs in the Creative Industries are Transforming the Global Economy.
Welcome Alice and Tom to Activate World.
Alice Loy: 00:38 Good morning.
Tom Aageson: 00:39 Good morning.
Alice Loy: 00:40 Thanks for having us.
Jon Mertz: 00:41 Give us a little bit of background of your experiences. What brought you together to start Creative Startups as well as write this book? Alice, if you want to start.
Alice Loy: 00:51 Sure. So, gosh almost 15 years ago I was teaching a class at the university to MBA students. It was a social entrepreneurship class, and about half of the students had creative company ideas, and I couldn’t think of anybody who could help me build out modules, or case studies, or guest speakers,except for Tom Aageson who at that time was probably one of about five people globally who was doing leadership and entrepreneurship work in the creative economy. So, I invited Tom to breakfast, and we started having breakfast every week, and threw together some modules and some guest speakers for that class,and over the course of a year or two that series of weekly conversations turned into the organization we ended up founding, which is now called Creative Startups. Tom had had before that probably 20 years of experience in building creative enterprises.
Tom Aageson: 01:52 I was raised in a really small dairy town in Northern Wisconsin, and even then I wasn’t ever afraid to do anything on my own. In fact, a neighbor wanted to start a hot dog stand, and I don’t know, it was in my early teens maybe, so I ran that. Since then, I’ve started a number of businesses, sometimes in the museum world when I was at Mystic Seaport, and it all turned out later that this was all in the creative economy. So, started an art gallery, and publishing books and print sand things of that nature. So, I’ve always enjoyed starting organizations, corporations, and so it was a natural when we finally moved and had this huge pivot into the creative economy, which was maturing when we did that probably seven, eight years ago, in terms of the creative economy. Our focus has always been with the entrepreneurs.
Jon Mertz: 03:19 How does diversity and inclusion play into the creative economy?
Alice Loy: 03:23 First of all, diversity and inclusion should play into every aspect of the creative economy, and the economy in general. Unfortunately, there are similar problems in the creative economy that we find in other areas, including tech, biotech, transportation, every other sector that struggles to include as many women and people of color as they should. So, when Tom and I started the accelerator program, we were very determined to tackle the issue of diversity and inclusion not only because a lot of the most exciting companies that are coming into the creative markets are created by people of color, women, LGBTQ, other folks, and so we started the accelerator with the idea that we had to be very transparent about inclusivity and giving over the mission to the people who we were trying to serve. So, I think not only have we been able to attract a lot of diverse people to the accelerator, but we also were able to shape it in a way that feels like it’s their accelerator.
Alice Loy: 04:34 It’s their experience. It’s not an experience that’s put onto them, that they get to visit. It truly is their experience, and over the years that’s meant that more and more diverse people have come to the accelerator. We, unlike most accelerators that have maybe 15% women and people of color, 70% of our alumni are women and people of color, and I think there’s greater awareness and desire among creative economy leaders to be more inclusive, but they’re struggling like the rest of the economy to figure out how to do that, and push back on structural racism and things that exclude people from being leaders.
Jon Mertz: 05:18 How does the creative economy solve some of these societal in communities? It seems like the creative industry may be a little bit more tuned to helping people solve some of those problems that may be happening within a community.
Tom Aageson: 05:30 Well, it touches so many different people that it opens up the kinds of doors to people that normally wouldn’t happen. So, one example I’m thinking of quickly is in Manchester, England for example, it just became an opportunity for all kinds of entrepreneurs to get going, and it was part of the upgrade and excitement that was happening in that city. In this county, we’re seeing things of similar nature as well. So, it reaches people that other sectors don’t reach, and as a result of that it does change a lot of the structures.
Alice Loy: 06:29 Tom and I recently wrote a book together and one of the things that we made sure we did was have a lot of representation not only geographically from around the world, but from men, and from women, and from people of color, etc. Some of the leading thinkers that contributed to the book point out how much the content development and distribution has shifted with digital platforms, and so you’re seeing entrepreneurs in, for example, in Jamaica put together digital stories, film, music, from Jamaica, but they’re spreading that back to Africa and to North America, South America, so the market for that content whether it’s music, or film, or a combination, is enormous and the development of that content now, it doesn’t have to all come from Hollywood. It can come from wherever, and that is causing an explosion in terms of who gets to participate in the creative economy as entrepreneurs, and we tell several of those stories in our book.
Tom Aageson: 07:35 Yeah, I think when you see how the costs with the digital economy, how the costs have come down on tools that people can use to make music, to make a film, to do theater, design, that opens up all kinds of opportunities for every single person. As long as they have that, they get that exposure to the digital economy.
Jon Mertz: 08:07 One of the examples is the Zuni Pueblo. Can you talk a little bit about why that was important for people in that pueblo?
Alice Loy: 08:15 Sure. So, probably about 10 years ago Tom and I launched a couple of programs that were light. They were light touch,and they were good. We won some awards, and they were effective, but we felt like we weren’t making fundamental change happen with communities. So, we took a turn and decided to focus on one community that had a lot of potential, but also a lot of need. At that time, around that time, Zuni Pueblo came to us. Now, Zuni Pueblo is a very traditional Native American community based in Western New Mexico on the border with Arizona. They were actually the first community that the Spaniards came across in North America when they came up through Mexico. That happened on Zuni lands. They came to us and they said, “80%of our people make a living through the arts, but our tribe is really struggling to help people make a livelihood, and we need people to start coming out to Zuni, visiting, meeting the artists, and spending their dollars here. How do we get people here?”
Alice Loy: 09:26 So, we’ve been working with Zuni for about three years now. We launched an art walk with a group of artists. The tribe recently hired a full-time art walk coordinator, and we have been marketing that successfully. They do the art walk about four or five times a year. It gets several hundred people out visiting the pueblo, enjoying local food, meeting the artists, touring the whole pueblo. It’s a lovely setting, and that worked for us, allows us to make an extended investment in a community and really have a fundamental shift take place that’s based in something the community wanted to do, and is tied to creativity, culture, tradition, but also innovation, digital and online technologies, etc.
Jon Mertz: 10:14 So, it seems like the creative economy really is geared toward creating jobs in those unexpected areas, or creating new opportunity.
Tom Aageson: 10:22 It certainly can, and it can also spawn really large companies as well. So, Pixar starts with this vision that somebody had all through their young life and in through college, and it took a real effort, but now it’s just enormous and has changed the film industry in many ways. So, it can be as big as that or as small as some of the other enterprises we see, but it’s a global, fourth industrial revolution economy. It’s all across the world, and some parts of the world are coming forward, others are quite mature.
Jon Mertz: 11:16 Yeah, it’s a great transition because you run your creative economy accelerator in other countries. What have been some of your experiences in sparking that creative economy in different parts of the world?
Alice Loy: 11:28 Sure, so last year we were in Malaysia and Kuwait, and this year we’rein Kuwait and most of the entrepreneurs there are actually from Egypt, and Dubai, and Saudi Arabia, and then we have some other sites in the US as well,but one of the things I think we see most is a real desire to understand how to build an entire ecosystem. So, most of the partners that we work with globally are working on building an entrepreneur ecosystem for creatives, and they understand that the accelerator is a tool that helps generate that ecosystem.It’s an eight-week program, but it takes a year to deliver, and that’s because we’re organizing an aggregating investors, and mentors, people at universities,other people who can help build out that ecosystem. One of the differences I think we see when we work outside of the US is a lack of risk tolerance. You hear people talk about this a lot, but interestingly, in the US we are pretty tolerant to risk and to failure. Other countries, other cultures, are struggling to build their startup economy because they just tend to shy away from that risk.
Jon Mertz: 12:54 How do you begin that journey, I guess, of taking the risk and launching a creative venture or creating that ecosystem?
Alice Loy: 13:00 I think individuals are motivated to do that. I think the leadership in a particular ecosystem is motivated by different factors. For example, in the Middle East they’re very aware that the oil economy is coming to an end. They have huge youth unemployment and they are trying to figure out how to build a next generation of meaningful jobs, and that’s something we talk quite a bit about in the book,is how through the creative economy communities can tackle some of the challenges and opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution. Certainly in the Middle East, it would be shifting to a new innovation based economy. In Latin America, it’s just building market economies that work for everyone.Asia, Asia I think we see that there’s a lot of motivation both to build market economies, but get youth engaged in the workforce and stay ahead of trends. So,each place tends to be motivated by different things, but they are very actively taking on the challenges of building an ecosystem for their entrepreneurs.
Tom Aageson: 14:12 In Colombia, for example, some years ago a book came out of the International Development Bank co-authored by two fellows. One of them is now president of Colombia, President Duque, and his assistant on policy is the co-author. That could have a huge movement and influence, at least in Latin America, if not globally.
Jon Mertz: 14:45 What do you say is the role of business leaders to try to spark that creative economy?
Tom Aageson: 14:49 Well, it all depends on their sector, their industry. They may be so focused on their sector. I think there’s some policy and also, like what Alice and her team are doing in Kuwait, there we are in the Middle East of all places that you wouldn’t imagine we would be, and it’s a very, very strong program because of the local leader who’s from Kuwait, and so that’s where, I think, it’ll happen.Where societies are saying, “We need to get different sectors going,”and they have those strategies, and I think that’s gonna be the way it goes.
Alice Loy: 15:40 Yeah, I think it depends on the leader in making sure that the ecosystem is, to some extent, ready and that you pick the right program and strategy given where the ecosystem is at. In the book, we talk about different tips for ecosystem builders, and one of them is that ecosystem builders and leaders,policy makers frankly, can be not as good at seeing entrepreneurs and recognizing the value of how different entrepreneurs do things, look, act, talk, etc.
Tom Aageson: 16:14 All the books on the creative economy, there aren’t that many, but they’re all on the macro level and so part of really what we want to accomplish with this book, is that it’s the entrepreneurs you have to focus on and build your ecosystem that fosters that. That’s why you see the stories of successful, and not so successful, entrepreneurs in the book are from all over the world and the people, there area bout 27 really distinguished people who have written endorsements after reading the draft, have the book and they represent 11 countries. So, it’s a global effort and this book, we want to spark the interest in fostering the entrepreneurship locally.
Jon Mertz: 17:17 I’d like to get your insight on Native Realities. Talk a little bit about their creative mission and the journey that they are on.
Alice Loy: 17:23 Sure, so Native Realities came through the program in 2016, and founded by a gentleman named Lee Francis IV, and he is from Laguna Pueblo, and founded a company that tells the stories of superheros in and from native communities.So, he is now the largest publisher of comic books for indigenous people, which is a 300 million people market. It’s an enormous market that has just been untapped, and when you look at native kids, they’re eager to find superheros that literally look like them. So, he’s telling those stories with native and indigenous artists from around the world. He’s working on gaming and animation now, and online publishing platforms so that people can collaboratively publish stories together, and he’s just going through the roof. He’s a great example of someone who had a business that had enormous potential, and he just didn’t quite know how to go from A to B to C, and so once we showed him the way a little bit, he was able to just go Gang Busters.
Tom Aageson: 18:31 He had this dream of a comic con, Indigenous Comic Con, and within months after finishing our accelerator he staged his first indigenous comic con, and he had 1,000 people.
Alice Loy: 18:47 Yeah, from 33 countries. It was amazing.
Tom Aageson: 18:50 Yeah, they came from all over.
Alice Loy: 18:53 All over the world.
Tom Aageson: 18:54 And it keeps growing. This is an amazing comic con. It’s breakthrough kinds of things can happen.
Jon Mertz: 19:06 What’s your best advice for those creative entrepreneurs that have these gifts and talents to get them to move forward and make that impact, not only in their own lives, but in their communities that they live?
Tom Aageson: 19:18 Well, certainly the only accelerator I think right now is Creative Startups, in the creative economy, so certainly look at that. If you can’t do that for some reason, then find a couple local entrepreneurs and just talk with them, and get them to encourage you, and do not give up.
Alice Loy: 19:43 Yeah, I would say in addition to what Tom says, which is he’s right 99%of the time, I would say build your network and then take the jump because if you have a network of people around you, they will help you sprout wings so that you can fly.
Jon Mertz: 20:01 For other leaders or mentors in those communities that see the opportunity of creating this creative economy and ecosystem in their area,what’s your best advice for them?
Alice Loy: 20:13 I would say believe in the power of entrepreneurship, and it’s a faith-based journey because most of the time there’s no evidence or any rational thought that it should work out, and then human beings can surprise you with what they can do. So, believe in entrepreneurs.
Tom Aageson: 20:30 Yep. Open doors and let them walk right through, and they will take it and they will run.That’s the nature of entrepreneurs.
Jon Mertz: 20:40 Great advice. Tom and Alice, thank you so much for your time. It’s been an interesting conversation to get a little more insight into the creative economy, and creative entrepreneurs, and what we can do to tap that and again, the book is Creative Economy: Entrepreneurs from Startup to Success: How Entrepreneurs in the Creative Industries are Transforming the Global Economy. Definitely a must read and a good read whether you’re on the entrepreneurial side, or trying to build that ecosystem where you live.
Alice Loy: 21:08 Yep, available on Amazon.
Jon Mertz: 21:09 Okay, great. Thank you so much.
Tom Aageson: 21:11 Thank you.
Alice Loy: 21:11 Thanks, Jon.
Jon Mertz: 21:17 Listeners, we’d love to hear from you.
How can you take your creative idea to the next step?
How are you building a diverse team, or bringing inclusiveness into your new venture?
Send your perspective to me at Jon @ ActivateWorld.com. That’s Jon without an H, Jon @ ActivateWorld.com,write it out or record it. Send it my way. We want to hear and share your thoughts.
Jon Mertz: 20:14 Be sure to tell your friends and colleagues about the Activate World podcast. Encourage them to subscribe, listen, and share from their favorite podcast platform, Apple, Google, Spotify, iHeartRadio, RadioPublic, and others. Let us know how we’re doing by leaving a review. Your reviews mean a lot to us.
Activate World isa team endeavor. Special thanks to Kayla Waldstein and Kent Nutt. Music by Jason Goodyear. For Activate World, I’m Jon Mertz.