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Pam Schallhorn, an educator with the University of Illinois Extension, Community and Economic Development office, presents Developing a Creative Economy to an attentive audience at Jacoby Arts Center. The gallery was the site of a creative entrepreneur workshop hosted by Alton Main Street.
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Lillian Bates, owner of By Design, pitches the panel during the shark tank session of a creative economy workshop at Jacoby Arts Center. Bates won third place in a People’s Choice contest. She wants to expand her School of Fashion.
ALTON — The Riverbend area doesn’t lack for creative and forward-thinking individuals, if Friday’s attendance at a Creative Entrepreneur workshop was any indication.
Thirteen lucky entrepreneurs snagged two minutes to pitch their ideas to a panel of business leaders in a “shark tank” format. But many in the audience were taking notes as well.
Hosted by Alton Main Street at Jacoby Arts Center, the workshop’s focus was on how cities similar to Alton were developing creative economies — those that have cultural and creative industries as their base.
The ideas presented ran the gamut from practical to conceptual, from brick-and-mortar to apps.
Orlando Panfile was looking for marketing and advertising advice. Panfile invented a gadget that lets the user securely hang picture frames on the wall; an attached plumb line makes sure the frame is level. Dale Blachford, president of Liberty Bank, suggested Panfile get his product “into as many hands as possible. Start with local folks, maybe Michaels.” Another panelist suggested he check out craft sites online.
Two Principia College students pitched MyStyle, a company that uses a recommendation engine to personalize a customer’s online shopping experience. Chris Miller is CEO of The Mission Center, a social enterprise incubator and accelerator in St. Louis. He suggested the two develop a minimum viable product instead of a business plan.
“Go out and test the idea,” he said. “Talk to customers and get real data.”
Pam Schallhorn is an Extension educator with the University of Illinois Extension, Community and Economic Development. In her keynote speech, Developing a Creative Economy, Schallhorn shared examples of other cities that have made the transition from manufacturing to small businesses with an emphasis on creative folks.
Calling herself a “therapist for your city,” Schallhorn didn’t mince words.
“Accept women and gays or (you’ll) have a hard time getting a creative economy going. It’s about feeling,” she said. “They don’t think about what they’re going to design or paint, they feel it. If you’re at a planning meeting, look around. If everyone is white, male, over the age of 65, you’re not going to have the feelers. It’s a reality.”
Don’t wait for the city council to be ready, she said. Appeal to them by pointing out the potential sales tax revenue.
“It comes down to (having an) experience. A dollar spent at Walmart gets spent once. A dollar spent at Mineral Springs Mall gets spun around three, four, five times,” she said.
If a community wants to become “creative-centric,” it has to embrace change and be prepared to break the rules.
“Not unlawfully, but ordinances have to change because most of them were developed in a time before a creative economy,” Schallhorn said. “If you think weird, crazy and different, you’re on the right track.”
Bohemians, she said, have a Protestant work ethic but people don’t think they do because they look, act and think differently. Being right-brained, they don’t think in linear ways, so advice to start with a business plan, then move on to a marketing plan doesn’t work for them.
“Their eyes glaze over. That’s designed for the left-brained. Creatives don’t think like that,” she said.
Schallhorn talked about the value of creating new markets through partnerships, co-ops and shared spaces.
That’s an idea that Lauren Waters, 24, likes. She said she has ideas “percolating,” and one is an herbal café.
“I love the idea of working with other businesses,” Waters said. “It’s all about community and teamwork. We have to help each other.”
Schallhorn suggested making the creative economy an inclusionary one. Sharing stories of women from low-income housing who became successful entrepreneurs, she said the creative economy “is not just for people who have an education. Include everyone. That’s when you know you’re tapping into all the talent in Alton.”
Alton Main Street Executive Director Sara McGibany said she was thrilled with the turnout.
“We knew there was a lot of interest on the topic, but it turned out better than we ever imagined,” she said.
PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD WINNERS
- First place: MOSH Compost (start-up, working in conjunction with Senior Services Plus), Shannon Briggs
- Second place: Grassroots Grocery (expansion plans for a community kitchen)
- Third place: By Design (expansion plans for a School of Fashion)
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