When artists talk about their work, they often mention that setbacks are a natural part of the creative process. They take risks, and when the risk doesn’t pan out, they have to refocus and begin again. Maybe that’s why some creative makers become entrepreneurs, a career path where success often springs from disappointment, failure and lessons learned.
“It’s a myth that everyone who enters the entrepreneurial world will find success. Chances are 95% will not,” said Carole Ratcliffe, co-trustee of the Philip E. and Carole R. Ratcliffe Foundation.
She added, “But that’s not bad. When a person who wants to be an entrepreneur fails, sometimes they just don’t have the right knowledge to succeed. Some don’t give up, they join with a mentor or larger organization that helps them through.”
The Ratcliffe Foundation, which supports entrepreneurs whose projects have a real world business focus, is an organization that helps young business owners get the support they need to maximize their potential. Since 2015, the Foundation has awarded MICA $1.2 million in grants to launch and support the UP/Start Venture Competition, the College’s entrepreneurship initiative that capitalizes on the talents of students and recent graduates. UP/Start winners receive investment resources of up to $100,000 annually. They also receive guidance, mentoring and tools to grow businesses or launch startups.
Ratcliffe has followed UP/Start winners with interest, and in 2017, she acted as a judge in the competition’s finals. The 2018 UP/Start finale is scheduled for April 4, from 4–8 p.m. at Brown Center’s Falvey Hall on MICA’s campus.
“The business proposals always surprise me. MICA’s students and alumni think so far out of the box,” she explained. “It’s interesting to see which artists-entrepreneurs have the capacity to push beyond their original ideas.”
She said that some of the UP/Start winners have seen their businesses evolve, and stresses that adapting to change is not a failure.
“There’s a learning curve,” Ratcliffe said. “Having to adapt as circumstances change — your partner leaves the business, your business morphs into something else because of the market — the Foundation sees that as positive reinforcement that this is what happens in business.”
Since 2003, the Ratcliffe Foundation has funded entrepreneurial programs at educational institutions throughout the Mid-Atlantic and in Florida. UP/Start was the first such program at a college of art and design. Ratcliffe is hopeful the Foundation’s support will encourage MICA’s students to become entrepreneurs.
“What better person to be an entrepreneur than an artist? When a young artist graduates from MICA, they have to figure out what to do with their talent. Do they create art or do they do something related? That need to figure out how to do something related makes young artists the best candidates to learn about simple business attributes,” Ratcliffe said.
“Perhaps the Foundation will help young artists start their own business, or help them learn business skills to get into middle management. In the end, I hope that it propels them into areas they hadn’t yet thought about or imagined.”