Recap: The SVA Alumni ‘Creative Entrepreneur’ Panel

March 2, 2015

SVA Alumni Affairs and Career Development recently presented “The Creative Entrepreneur,” a panel and networking event held at the SVA Theater. The panel discussion consisted of six entrepreneurs from a diverse range of fields: cooking and culinary arts, film, fine arts, game design, graphic design, product design and publishing.

panel425Panelists included Justin Gignac (BFA 2002 Advertising), an award-winning art director, known for creating the app ElfYourself, and also co-founder of Working Not Working, a site linking employers with a curated list of freelancers; Melissa Hamilton (BFA 1983 Fine Arts) and her business partner Christopher Hirsheimer, co-owners of Canal House, a cookbook and food photography studio; Michael Harry (BFA 2001 Film and Video), an executive producer who owns his own production company, Concentrate LLC, and is also co-founder of OVAL, a tech company; Lauren Hom (BFA 2013 Advertising) a designer and letterer whose blog Daily Dishonesty and project Will Letter for Lunch have gained notable media attention; and Catt Small (BFA 2011 Graphic Design), a product designer and web developer who creates and designs video games.

Throughout the discussion, panelists described their current entrepreneurial endeavors in depth. Harry, for example, described his latest project, OVAL, a small sensor which detects shifts in motion, light, moisture and temperature, and offers phone alerts when environments are disturbed—allowing users to monitor windows, doors, medicine cabinets and other areas of the home. “It’s not as big brother as you think,” Harry explained. “But it can really protect the people, pets and things you care about most.”

harry425The amount of time and commitment to such projects was also shared. Small began developing her new video game, Prism Shell, in 2013, but thanks to an unforeseen setback with the operating system on which it was formatted, her team has been actively reworking and refining the game.

The importance of having an active online presence was also a key focal point. Harry discussed the important connections he had made putting his work up on the SVA Alumni page, while Hom cited the influential role of Daily Dishonesty, the Tumblr blog she started as a senior at SVA. “I threw up a bunch of posts, put a few hash tags on them and woke up the next morning with 1,000 followers.”  Her blog, she insists, is responsible for most of her freelance work and has recently earned her a book deal.

Even Gignac’s current business seemingly sprung from his own portfolio site, which humorously featured a blinking, neon sign that read “Working,” “Available,” or “Available Soon.” Partially in jest, he also created a Facebook group, Twitter feed, Iphone app, text alert and mailing list announcing his work status, and soon a vast array of ad agencies began following him and offering projects. Hamilton and Hirsheimer’s business, Canal House, also grew organically once they began a blog Canal House Cooks Lunch, featuring photographs and descriptions of their daily lunch, which later evolved into a book, as in the case with Hom.

group425Patricia Romeu, an Emmy award-winning film producer and assistant director in Career Development, served as moderator and posed other essential questions such as: “How has prior work experience influenced your endeavor?” and “What is the largest business mistake you’ve ever made?” Panelists commented on the challenge of managing money, employees, contracts with friends, and one’s own expectations. Despite such a varying array of fields and experiences, everyone was in agreement when it came to the question of building professional relationships. Treating clients like good friends, being aware of one’s own limitations, and being a nice person were discussed. Gignac even offered an insightful quote: “Help enough people get what they want, and they’ll help you get what you want.”

Images: Photos by Rafael Macia; bottom photo, back row, left to right: Michael Harry, Christopher Hirsheimer, Melissa Hamilton and Justin Gignac; front row, left to right: Patricia Romeu, Lauren Hom and Catt Small.

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