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The art of entrepreneurship

In Northeastern’s College of Arts, Media, and Design, entrepreneurship is more about channeling creativity than simply turning an idea into a business venture.

“For us, entrepreneurship takes on a slightly different meaning,” said Dean Xavier Costa. “Entrepreneurship is not only about developing startup projects, but also about our interest in creativity. We like our students to embark on projects that are innovative and creative—we want them to take risks and approach entrepreneurship as a way to approach their creativity.”

The college recently presented its inaugural batch of Entrepreneurial Spirit Awards to students who had used what they had learned in class and on co-op to take on leadership roles and develop new projects in the arts. The awards, which will henceforth be presented annually, were given out for the first time during a panel discussion on entrepreneurship and the arts as part of last month’s Global Entrepreneurship Week.

“We are incredibly excited about the work our students are doing,” Costa said.

Ian Gasco-Wiggin designed new space for a community organization in Holyoke, Mass.

The awards were presented to Marie Sullivan, a senior communication studies major whose documentary short Finders Keepers followed a group of dumpster divers and “freegans” in Boston; Kate Downey, AMD’11, who founded a theater company to produce a new version of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus; Joey Lafyatis, a second-year music technology major who helped turn the Green Line Records student group into an up-and-coming record label; and Ian Gasco-Wiggin, a graduate student in the  department of architecture who designed new community space for Nueva Esperanza, a nonprofit organization in Holyoke, Mass.

Award winners noted that the experience of channeling their creativity through entrepreneurship has improved their leadership skills and self-confidence.

“My project was very much about taking an idea and seeing how far I could run with it,” said Sullivan, whose documentary began as a class project. “Being able to get out of my comfort zone while making this film really let me learn a lot about myself along the way.”

Lafyatis, for his part, helped restructure Green Line Records and led the development of a new recording studio, which is scheduled to open next year in Snell Library.

“When I saw the application for the award, it asked you to talk about ideas like dedication and what it takes to be the leader of a group,” Lafyatis said. “One of the things I’ve seen through running Green Line as a business is that you have to be able to take a step back as a leader so you can see what’s going on now, and at the same time look farther ahead than anybody else.”

Kate Downey produced a version of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.

Downey, who founded a theater company after participating in the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s summer apprentice program in 2011, noted that her experience as a theatre producer taught her an important lesson in perseverance. 

“It was definitely an experience where we learned as we went along,” said Downey, who now works as a rehearsal coordinator at the New York City Opera. “I had picked up a lot from my co-op with the Actors’ Shakespeare Project. It has a scrappy dynamic that it’s going to make things work no matter what, and I definitely think we tried to capture that mindset.”

Gasco-Wiggin worked within a space that hosts a number of local organizations, including an after-school program for a predominantly Puerto Rican community. He was tasked with designing a space that could give back to the community and generate revenue and ended up creating a mixed-use environment comprising a café, bookstore, and a community art wall.

“It was great to work on a real-life idea and get involved with clients outside of the classroom,” said Gasco-Wiggin. “We talked about important issues and had to come up with ways to tackle each one so we could keep moving forward.”