“The arts are integral to the advancement of our culture but also for the nourishment of the individual. These proposals create new ways to break down barriers between artists and businesses so the arts can continue to flourish in our global society,” said challenge co-chair Diana Sorensen (left), dean of arts and humanities. Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria (center) and Yo-Yo Ma joined in the challenge kick-off in December.

File photo by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Writer

Campus & Community

Cultural Entrepreneurship finalists named

5 min read

Deans’ inaugural challenge finalists explore how business strategies can help sustain, enhance the arts

Harvard University today announced the selection of 10 teams of finalists in the inaugural Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge.

Sponsored by deans from across the University and hosted by the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab), this challenge was created to support students in exploring how entrepreneurship or innovative business ideas can be used to sustain the longevity of the arts and enhance their cultural impact.  The challenge is an example of Harvard’s recognition of cultural entrepreneurship as an emerging discipline that is gaining traction with artists and business leaders alike.

“The arts are integral to the advancement of our culture but also for the nourishment of the individual. These proposals create new ways to break down barriers between artists and businesses so the arts can continue to flourish in our global society,” said challenge co-chair Diana Sorensen, dean of arts and humanities and James F. Rothenberg Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of Comparative Literature.

In preparing their applications, participants thought about issues such as artist services and support, funding and audiences, broadening cultural impact, and increasing accessibility of the arts.

The finalists were selected from a pool of 70 applications by a judging panel that included Harvard faculty members and alumni, as well as prominent cultural entrepreneurs. The teams’ ideas range across a wide set of problems, but each incorporates a solution to increase access to the arts.  Brief descriptions of the finalists’ projects follow:

CreativeSPACES is an online platform that provides an easy way for emerging artists to find, select, and book venues through a direct payment or ticket prepurchase marketing campaign.

Hamdasti (meaning “partnership” in Persian) is a nonprofit organization based in India that builds partnerships between government, artists, and designers to create civic engagement in governance.

Hearing Things will reimagine the unstable public radio model while supporting and benefiting from the museum community.

Indigo is a social discovery and engagement ecosystem for the arts that unites three main audiences: cultural institutions, artisans, and cultural enthusiasts.

Ripple (rippleconcerts.com) is a community marketplace where musical artists and raving fans can find one another and book private concerts in unique places.

Midas Touch — “seeing” paintings through touch — uses 3-D printing technology to render paintings an accessible art form to the visually impaired.

MUSEY is an online platform and mobile app solution using geotechnology to enable users to find art in their immediate vicinity, learn more about it, and aid it financially, supporting art outside museum walls.

Music+1 is a mobile app that accompanies musicians playing concertos, sonatas, and chamber music. It listens to the soloist and automatically adjusts the speed and volume of the accompaniment (a recording of real instruments) to fit the soloist’s style in real time.

SOAP Fair is a cross-disciplinary auction for art, design, and technology objects produced by graduate students and alumni from top universities.

Urban Canvas collaborates with artists and their audiences to extend street art through the urban realm using an online and mobile app interactive map system to turn open space into a virtual “museum.”

The Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge, supported in part by the Office of the President, leverages the expertise of a multifaceted partnership among the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Business School, and the Silk Road Project, a nonprofit arts organization affiliated with Harvard University and led by cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

“The in-depth challenge programs and the high caliber of the applications are true reflections of the strength of the idea and the partnership that has been developed between the Silk Road Project and Harvard,” said Laura Freid, Silk Road Project executive director. “The proposals illustrated an understanding of artistic tradition and a commitment to innovation. We are honored to be part of the planning team for this exciting journey.”

“The impact of organizations like Kickstarter, Behance, and Etsy, which have introduced unique business models to sustain the arts, indicates that cultural entrepreneurship has a foothold in the innovation economy,” said Harvard Business School Professor Mukti Khaire. “These student teams are presenting innovative solutions that will further grow the partnerships between artists and entrepreneurs, and contribute to the emerging field and discipline of cultural entrepreneurship.”

All participants were supported by a series of workshops on cultural entrepreneurship, which offered information on the emerging practice of cultural entrepreneurship and the arts ecosystem and provided forums for idea development. Presenters included Khaire, Michael Spalter (chairman of the board of trustees at the Rhode Island School of Design), Jim Bildner (Harvard Kennedy School), musician/composer/entrepreneur Cristina Pato (Silk Road Ensemble), and producer/writer/director Randy Weiner (“The Donkey Show,” “Oberon,” “Sleep No More”).

Finalists will receive a $5,000 prize, dedicated space at the Harvard i-lab, and programming and expert mentorship to further develop their solutions. They will present their ideas to the local and Harvard communities at a Demo Day in early May.

The grand prize winner and up to four runners-up will be announced in May, when they will take home a share of the $75,000 purse. They can continue their residency at the i-lab, with dedicated workspace, mentoring, and access to expert resources throughout the summer.

The Deans’ Challenge for Cultural Entrepreneurship is one of two deans’ challenges hosted by the i-lab this year. Finalists for the Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge will be announced soon; finalists for the President’s Challenge for social entrepreneurship were announced March 25.