An entrepreneurship class helps Emerson students turn their artistic passions into viable businesses
Though not thought of as a "business school," these students are learning about how to start their own companies with hands-on experience.
James Monroe-Chausse is developing a business plan to open a profit-sharing record label. He’s majoring in sound design and audio production at college, but has always wanted to start his own business and hopes to help pay artists what they deserve.
Rey Sawan is working on a social media app that he hopes will actually get people off their phones by fostering natural ways to start conversations. Currently studying marketing, Sawan, who was raised in Dubai, noticed in Boston how hard it is to start conversations with people on the T because they’re always on their phones, and thinks he can help bridge that gap with his technology.
Both 20-year-old college juniors always knew that they wanted to start their own business someday, but they didn’t pursue an education at a traditional business school. They followed their passions and both currently go to Emerson, a college that focuses on communication studies, performing and visual arts.
Some students didn’t even know they could work towards their own businesses while at Emerson, but thanks to its E3 program — the “Emerson Experience in Entrepreneurship” — they’re able to learn what they need to know on the business side while still focusing on the passion of their artistic majors.
“I knew that I wanted to be more than just creative, and they teach us that we are business people first, we have to sell ourselves,” Sawan said. “It makes Emerson so different than other ‘art’ schools — you get to dive in and really get the hands-on help you need.”
The E3 class is a year-long commitment in which students, under the guide of Lu Ann Reeb, director of business and entrepreneurship studies at Emerson, learn about what it means to be an entrepreneur. The expected to build a business plan, show that they can create revenue on their campus using a monetary investment from Reeb and learn by going outside of the classroom and examining a thriving businesses.
“I tell my students right when they sign up for the entrepreneurship minor, if you’re expecting a lecture class, this isn’t it,” Reeb said. “In order to really learn what it means to be an entrepreneur, you have to immerse yourself in doing it. You can’t just read from a text book.”
Already this semester, Reeb’s students have stepped into the world of Bon Me, the Boston-born food truck and restaurant chain; VDA Productions, a Somerville event design group; Wine Riot, a company in the South End that offers wine tastings; and Mass Challenge, a nonprofit startup accelerator that advances more than 300 business ventures a year.
The businesses they’ve visited have been as varied as the majors of her students, from visual media to writing Reeb said, and she thinks this class will prevent them from being "starving artists."
“A lot of people see Emerson as an arts school but it's very much based on communication, and that’s a big part of starting a business, being able to communicate why your brand matters,” said Mary Duhon, a 21-year-old senior. “I find all of my classes really support my learning in this [entrepreneurial] class.”
Ali Fong, co-owner of Bon Me, said that when she spoke to Reeb’s students, it was the first and only time a college class actually visited with her inside one of the restaurants. She explained the business’s unusual start: Rather than trying to open a bunch of food trucks, she entered, and won, a food truck competition in Boston.
Fong didn’t go to business school but said that she learned a lot along the way. She’s been learning from the students, too. One had what she called a “great idea” for a brand ambassador program for college students.
David Breen, the founder of VDA Productions, was an Emerson grad himself but there wasn’t any such entrepreneurial program when he was there. He had a tough start transitioning from set design to the business side of event planning, including a project that lost him about $800,000.
“Me, falling into such a dynamic business hole 18 years ago, I wish that I had had the opportunity to even understand what it meant to run a business,” he said. “[These students] can still be artists but they can actually put a business plan together that supports the artistic passion that they have.”
Emerson just launched its Business of Creative Enterprises major, but through the E3 program minor, these students have already been hard at work. Like Yassmine Hammoudi, a 21-year-old senior and film directing major. Hammoudi is originally from the Middle East and wants to eventually go back to start a production company or sound studio to help film flourish there.
“This is something that I didn’t know about Emerson until I got there and started exploring the business classes, but this class especially really helps turn what you came to Emerson to do into an actual, long-term business, to make something out of your passion,” she said. “You hear a lot about how you need to find something that you love to do, but that’s a lot easier said than done. This class shows you how to do that.”