Q&A with SVA Alumnus and Creative Entrepreneur Michael Harry

February 20, 2015

Michael Harry (BFA 2001 Film and Video) has made quite a name for himself as an executive producer of live action and animated commercials, music videos, documentaries and films. mikeharry200He owns a production company, Concentrate LLC, and has produced campaigns for clients such as Chanel, Johnson & Johnson, MTV and many others, and he is also co-founder and CMO for OVAL, a tech company that has created the first “consumer smart sensor.”

On Tuesday, February 24, Harry will be joined by six other successful entrepreneurs for a panel discussion about the frustrations and triumphs of working independently. His fellow panelists are alumni Justin Gignac (BFA 2002 Advertising), Melissa Hamilton (BFA 1983 Fine Arts), Lauren Hom (BFA 2013 Advertising) and Catt Small (BFA 2011 Graphic Design). Presented by SVA Alumni Affairs and Career Development, the event takes place at 7:00pm at the SVA Theatre, 333 West 23rd Street, New York City, and is free and open to the public. There is a private reception for SVA alumni following (RSVP at alumni.sva.edu/entrepreneur).

You’ve been very busy since graduating from SVA. What have been some of the highlights of your career so far?
I’ve been fortunate to have what I consider many highlights of my career since graduating from SVA in 2001. Creating my company, Concentrate, in 2002 has provided me with the most satisfaction personally and professionally. I’ve learned an incredible amount being a small business owner and I continue to learn daily. Through my company, I’ve been able to work with some amazing directors, artists, executives and entrepreneurs. For some collaborative projects, I’ve made a risky and sometimes rewarding decision to forgo payment for my services in exchange for equity in some exciting new companies. This has broadened my reach as a businessman and artist and opened the doors to many new contacts and interesting and challenging experiences.

Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I had the usual hustle that most kids have growing up with my neighborhood friends and classmates. We started magazines, created companies, formed clubs, made movies on my dads VHS camcorder and created and sold ridiculous things to anyone who would listen to us. So I guess I’ve always had that urge to be an entrepreneur inside of me. However, it wasn’t until I got to SVA and was exposed to areas of the arts I had little or no knowledge in that I really understood how I could develop as an entrepreneur. I had such intimate access to a wide array of talent, ideas and equipment. And it seemed that almost everyone I encountered could benefit from a connection with someone else I knew, so I began to think of ways to utilize these networks to create art, companies and products.

Your latest company, OVAL, has created the first “consumer smart sensor.” Can you tell us more about that and how it developed?
My partner in OVAL, Rich Cosgrove, found me through the SVA alumni page where I keep a portfolio of my work. He reached out and told me about OVAL and asked if I would be interested in creating their crowd-funding campaign video in exchange for a small percentage of equity in the company. Being that I had a good conversation with Rich, was intrigued by the technology and had a somewhat slow period of work at that time, I accepted. I quickly realized that they did not have the branding and marketing elements in place needed for a successful campaign. I renegotiated my role in the company and became the Chief Marketing Officer and subsequently created all of their marketing assets. Finally, after we launched our campaign and were successful, I realized the needs we would have moving forward as we brought OVAL to market. I renegotiated my role with the company a third and final time, became an equal partner and co-founder, and here we are.

As for what OVAL is, it’s the world’s first small, affordable multipurpose sensor that detects changes in motion and acceleration, light, temperature, humidity and proximity—sending you a push notification, text, email or phone call whenever the sensors are disturbed. Anywhere in the world. Instantly.

What is the best advice you got at SVA?
The best advice I got at SVA was from my mentor and thesis teacher, Joan Brooker who, quite simply, always said, “Do the work.” That’s never left my mind. It’s one thing to talk a good game and fantasize about what could be, but at the end of the day it’s your work and your work only that matters. You have to make each project better than the last, learn from each experience, success and failures, and keep moving forward. If you just ‘do the work,’ you’ll open yourself up to more opportunities, collaborations, and personal and professional growth.

Do you have any words of wisdom for current students, especially those that share your entrepreneurial spirit?
I have plenty of thoughts to share with those just starting out in any capacity, mostly learned from my failures. Things will ALWAYS cost twice as much and take twice as long to complete as you originally thought. So plan accordingly. Also, it’s best to manage expectations of your clients, partners and most importantly, yourself. It’s the under promise/over deliver saying, which I’m sure you’ve heard before. Also, surround yourself with people that are smarter and more talented than you. People that you aspire to be. You can only get better with these people in your life. Finally, don’t be afraid to take risks, don’t be afraid to fail and no matter what, just do the work. All good things will follow.

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