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Growing Up

Want to start an artistic business? A creative incubator could be just what you need to come out of your shell.

There's a special kind of balance entrepreneurs need to maintain when they set out to start a creative type of business. Whether it's designing jewelry, producing musical events or launching a theater company, entrepreneurs need to learn how to push the boundaries creatively while making smart business decisions that will ensure their company's financial interests.

Creative incubators such as the one offered by the Arts Council of New Orleans can help creative start-ups find that balance. "It's not just about the creativity," says Scott Hutcheson, director of operations for the council. "It's about rent, quality of life and cost of living- finding the outlet to make [a creative business] work for you."

The Council's Entergy Arts Business Program boasts the basic attributes of a typical business incubator-access to office space, fax and copy machines, phone lines and so on-but also adds a group health plan and business workshops on topics such as marketing, fund-raising and board development. Companies in the incubator can be for-profit or nonprofit and come from a variety of artistic fields.

The San Jose Arts Incubator in San Jose, California, is another place where creative start-ups can grow. Although the creative side of the business is examined during the application process, the financial and growth goals are inspected just as closely. This incubator looks for companies that are a good fit for the incubator and offer a marketable and measurable value to the artistic community.

Typically, says program manager Joe B. Rodriguez, start-ups accepted into the incubator are expected to sustain a growth rate of 5 to 10 percent per year once in the program, with most growing at a 20 to 25 percent rate. One incubator alum, for example, is a nonprofit arts organization that now has an operating budget exceeding $1 million.

Chesley Adler, founder of Chesley Adler Creations LLC, a jewelry design business, has benefited since securing some of that coveted crea-tive incubator space in New Orleans. After launching part time in 1997, Adler jumped in full time in 2002 with the goal of expanding her product line and developing her production resources.

"It can be a little overwhelming when you're doing it all yourself," says Adler, 36. But bouncing ideas off the other businesspeople in the creative incubator has been invaluable. "It's really nice to come into [the] office," she adds. "There's a good energy."

Jodi Brown of music production company JBrown Presents LLC is one of Adler's neighbors in the incubator. Brown, 40, can't say enough good things about her experience. She's had access to business coaches and creative business experts who keep her tuned into the local arts scene.

"They're always trying to connect us," says Brown. "Surrounding yourself with creative business folks is never a losing proposition."

The benefits of joining an incubator are certainly numerous, but even nonmembers can receive support. The monthly workshops, for example, are often available to local businesses. Hutcheson notes that the New Orleans incubator offers free legal advice to arts-related businesses: "It's free for anyone, because we know we're limited space-wise [in the incubator]."

Though creative business incubators are still relatively new in the business incubator world, they do exist. Check out "Just Imagine" below for more information about creative business incubators in your community.

JUST IMAGINE
Want to find a creative business incubator? Then look into these resources:

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This article was originally published in the December 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Growing Up.

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