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Grant, Dolls and Gaming Link Commerce, Creativity

Chapman University plans to open a business incubator for arts and culture-based enterprises at the end of a two-year, $200,000 grant the European Union awarded the school last month.

It’s the recent fruit of efforts at local colleges and universities to connect creativity and commerce.

Work includes a toy line birthed at the University of California-Irvine to get girls interested in entrepreneurship and STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—education; a new Master of Fine Arts program in game design at Laguna College of Art & Design; and professional theater that pays at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa (see related story page 29).

Chapman’s EU money will fund scholars in residence, an international conference, and the launch of the incubator.

The schools said cultural and creative industries include digital gaming and technology, healthcare and medicine, restaurants, food and retail products, along with more directly artistic pursuits, such as film or fashion.

The goal is to understand how these industries work and apply those lessons to make them pay.

“Residencies and the conference would include businesspeople, policymakers and artists,” said Patrick Fuery, dean of Chapman’s Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

The incubator would continue the work and launch businesses, he said.

Fuery said the overlap of business and the arts has happened locally in food halls—the Packing House in Anaheim and 4th Street Market in Santa Ana, for instance—which are design-based and meant to make money, grow businesses and improve cities.

“It’s using creative processes to regenerate urban areas,” he said.

Other examples of “creative business” include “Google’s work environment,” which is known for practices representing “the role and function of creativity within a business model” and “seeing Bowers (Museum) … or Broadcom (Corp.) as a creative enterprise.”

Fuery said that far from forcing business applications onto the arts, Chapman’s initiatives are about showing how creative pursuits, which are often seen as academic or ephemeral, can actually create—by producing tangible results.

“If you approach any kind of creativity as a silo, you limit yourself,” he said, referring to creativity as a pursuit that in theory has no bearing on other enterprises. “Students need to see it’s not, ‘I’m just trained to be this one thing.’”

Fuery wants to offer a degree in cultural and creative industries; the first courses in Wilkinson College’s minor in the discipline ran last fall.

“Seventy percent of the students were from the business school,” he said. “Companies want people who think more creatively.”

Best in Show

A toy company whose products teach entrepreneurship and technology to girls ages 6 to 11 launched last year after the founders won a 2014 business plan competition at UCI’s Paul Merage School of Business.

The win underscores integration of education, business, and the arts—the business makes games and toys.

The iBesties line’s plan is to include books, dolls and online elements that involve six female characters in middle school whose personas—brainy, extrovert, reader, tomboy, artistic, popular—link to real work in businesses they start in technology, social media, blogging, publicity, graphic design, and business development.

The friends launch a startup that they keep secret from their parents.

Sisters Jenae and Gina Heitkamp—the latter is a UCI MBA graduate—took the business competition’s $15,000 top prize, hit up several toy fairs this past spring, garnered some national media coverage, and finished a Kickstarter campaign this summer that raised $52,381.

The first two dolls and a chapter of the first book are in production for campaign supporters, according to the sisters’ page on the crowdfunding website.

Artists in Business

Laguna College’s MFA in the Art of Game Design began this fall.

MFA founder and chair Sandy Appleöff said it’s an “executive-level program” for digital gaming workers.

“It’s to advance junior designers in-house or help employees change their career path,” Appleöff said.

“It’s taught by the industry for the industry.”

Ninety percent of the work is online. Students are engineers or programmers who could become game makers.

“Most people in the industry have an idea for a game,” she said. “This teaches them how to design it, approach the publishers (who produce games), then market it, [and the] leadership skills to start a business.”

Students’ final projects are their finished games, she said.

Laguna College of Art & Design also has work ongoing with UCI to develop smartphone and other apps for businesses.

Catharin Eure, who chairs LCAD’s design and digital media program, said students from engineering at UCI and design at LCAD work together to make digital products and mobile-device apps in projects for local companies at the Portal, a nonprofit incubator for startup companies founded by the Beall Family Foundation and early-stage business accelerator K5 Ventures.

K5 cofounder and Managing Director Ray Chan said that when startups come to the Portal for help with their products, a pleasing design is an integral part of the incubator’s proposal.

“As investors, we see startup companies focused only on products,” he said.

“We have a team at the Portal, and we say [to those companies], ‘This is what we can do for you,’ and … the [creative] design component is built into the package.”

“Fine art and design skills are used to solve problems of how people will use the product” they want the Portal to help develop, Eure said.

She said companies pay the Portal for its help and that LCAD students who work on projects are paid, in addition to earning college credit for their work.

Happy Marriage

Chapman’s Fuery said he sees potential for pursuing the business-culture link, especially in an “out of the Beltway” place like Orange County, where new ideas can take root. “Banks in Germany actually have a ‘creative industries officer’” on the payroll, he said.

First up are recognizable academic pursuits: developing the scholars-in-residence programs—a series of three three-week visits by European thinkers—and planning the conference.

All will be at the university, and Fuery’s work starts with research and grant money. He said European Union funding can be renewed if early efforts show promise and, “I’m pretty hopeful the university will back this work.”

Future funds would be “invested entirely in the incubator” to help people “do what you love and be employable.”

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