All entries for February 2015

February 28, 2015

Dance Entrepreneur– Swaroopa Unni



Interviewer: Ankita Menon

Swaroopa Unni is a dance entrepreneur based in Dunedin, New Zealand where she founded Natyaloka School of Indian Classical dance. Natyaloka is a Sanskrit word for the ‘world of dance’ and the school embodies that word by offering classes in Bharatnatyam and Mohiniyattam.

Currently pursuing her PhD in Dance studies from Otago University, New Zealand, Swaroopa began her dance journey from the tender age of four. She has trained in Bharatnatyam, Mohiniyattam, Kuchipudi and Kathak, each a distinct Indian classical dance style of its own over a span of 15 years from various distinguished dance masters and has performed across many stages in India. She has also won several prizes at the University, District and State levels whilst representing her school and college.

Born into a family of artists that encouraged dancing amongst girls, she never faced any objection from her family members to pursue this field and believes her husband Siddharth Nambiar is her strongest supporter and critic who equivalently helps her in the technical aspects of her dance shows.

Natyaloka was never a “pre-planned” idea for a start-up and began in the flow of her married life after shifting to Dunedin in 2010.
In an email interview, she writes, “I knew that dance would be a part of my life though I was not sure how long or how much I would be involved in it. I was the happiest when I was on stage. So I had a hope that I would become a performing artist. But once I moved to Dunedin, I was asked if I could teach /train the youth from the Indian diaspora here and so my journey began. It just all fell into place and Natyaloka was born.

For someone who has been performing her whole life, surprisingly, teaching dance to 25 students of all ages gives her utmost satisfaction.

Prior to Natyaloka and after moving to Dunedin, Swaroopa participated at the Dunedin Fringe Festival in 2011 and was nominated for the outstanding performer and best newcomer, thanks to the support of the Dunedin creative arts community. The local community at Dunedin was only familiar with Bollywood dance and in her own little way, Swaroopa was instrumental in creating an interest in Indian classical dance forms through workshops, lecture-demonstrations and various tutoring sessions within the Indian diaspora as well as with the local population in Dunedin. As a culmination of all these, Natyaloka was born on 6 October 2011 “at a spare room in her apartment with just three students.” She felt Natyaloka would be the best launchpad to promote herself as a dance instructor as well as an artist.

Natyaloka was the first Indian classical dance school in Dunedin and its main USP was that it was an all-inclusive performing arts center catering to all skill levels and abilities. Class, religion, age, ability and gender were not taken into consideration and the main aim was “to inculcate a healthy and supportive environment for learning the dance forms.”

Analyzing the SWOT of her dance school, Swaroopa writes. “My idea was not commercialization of the dance form, our culture or to make profits. I just wanted to share my passion for dance with the others and identify similar artists, art appreciators within my dance school and outside. So I didn’t identify any threat nor am I insecure
She never considered the competition while starting out and doesn’t really mind it as long as it is healthy competition where her art can speak for itself.

Dance is an art form that often does not provide enough financial impetus especially in countries where dance appreciation is not fully developed or encouraged. Like any solo dance entrepreneur, Swaroopa, too, struggled to gain financial incentives only through her dance school. She reminisced that when she started Natyaloka, the classes used to initially take place at her apartment and there was hardly any cost involved apart from knowledge generation. But as the dance school grew and more and more students enrolled, she decided to move the classes to a studio for which she pays the per week’s rent. Initially, she had to do a couple of odd jobs to sustain the rent payment but now she pays from the fees given by the students.

She admits with complete honesty,” I don’t make much earning through my dance school. But I am doing it for the love of it. I just want to share my passion and love for art with everyone around me.

Dance is an expensive field on account of the costumes, venue and stage options. More so for Indian classical dances because the tradition of performing it on a proper stage in front of a knowledgeable audience adorned in the traditional attire and jewellery has to be followed. The financial expenses intensify with the addition of live music, which is why many artists prefer to use recordings rather than live orchestra. Swaroopa acknowledged that the struggle is real when it comes to arranging the venue, stage, lights and costumes and to add-on to that, promotion of shows and sale of tickets/ invites. However that hasn’t stopped all her shows from being a sell-out until now!

Natyaloka usually hosts its annual productions between August and October every year and apart from that, participates in several cultural events set up by the Dunedin City Council.
Explaining the process undertaken for her annual productions, she writes-” I look for a theme for my show every year and rehearsals start 7-8 months before the actual production. Initially during class hours and then closer towards the programme, say 2-3 months before we meet on Sunday for extra rehearsal. Planning for Themes for production start right after one is finished the previous year. I start with booking the venue, hiring sound and light and hiring the tech and photographer and letting the students and their parents know about the production and rehearsal details at the beginning of the year. Costumes and jewellery are sourced from India which my parents help me organize.”

A lover of all dance styles, currently she is focused on Bharatnatyam. While the performer in her believes in maintaining her individuality in the choreographies, as a teacher she encourages her students to find their own individual style in synchronization with the choreographic works. Swaroopa enjoys projecting contemporary issues in her dances as well as undertaking concepts showcasing women as powerful characters. She writes,” Creativity is a process on its own. I observe a lot. I read a lot too. So when I come across something that is interesting to me, that triggers a spark in my mind I go about researching it and try to come up with a choreography and music.”

Her passion for using dance as a medium of change is explicitly indicated in her belief that Indian classical dance has a bright future ahead due to its beautiful story-telling feature which can be used to address contemporary issues of today and not just remain as an “exotic spectacle.”

Swaroopa feels that in terms of marketing, self-branding plays an important role for a dance entrepreneur to attain opportunities and use it as a wheel for promotional activities. Although she admits at being bad in promoting herself, she takes every given opportunity to promote her students through Natyaloka. Apart from that, she indulges in word-of-mouth, Facebook, fliers-around-the-city and articles in local newspapers as marketing strategies before a show. However, at the beginning of every year she does advertise for new enrollments at local newspapers in line with the promotion for Natyaloka.

Even though it took 2 years for Natyaloka to create a name in the Dunedin dance scene, Swaroopa is happy with the active participation of Natyaloka in the Dunedin dance community and the name it has created for itself in the dance sector. Although bigger cities like Auckland and Wellington have a number of Indian classical dance institutions, she feels the sector is small but growing.

When asked how things would have been different if she started her school in India, she writes- “India would have been different. Easier to get students because dance is part of our lives and there is no need for an explanation. But I am happy I started here because I can look at my dance objectively. My perspectives, ideas and philosophies have changed.”

It is a one-woman army handling everything for now and she doesn’t want to make it an enterprise unless she gets the opportunity to work with like-minded people who will foster and support her endeavours.


Her top three requirements for anyone setting out to be a cultural entrepreneur in the dance field are passion, love and courage. As a concluding note, she writes- “If you are looking only for money and financial gain or expecting profits, it is not easy. I think this is a profession were whatever meagre amount you earn from a project in invested again for the next one. It doesn’t stay in your account. Unless you are successful to procure funding for the projects which is a highly competitive area.”

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Natyaloka?pnref=story

Swaroopa unni performing Bharatnatyam


February 27, 2015

Interview with the Funder of China House

Writing about web page http://www.chinagoingout.org/

Interviewer: YIXIU & FATIN

Interviewee: HONGXIANG HUANG (FUNDER OF CHINA HOUSE IN KENYA)

About China House

China House is the first Chinese-initiated social enterprise in Africafocusingon China-Africa engagement. It is a platform to bring young Chinese to Africa to study and improve the sustainable development of Chinese overseas engagement.Weresearch on Chinese overseas investment and relatedsocial environmentalconflicts, help Chinese companies design Corporate Social Responsibility programs and develop sustainable business strategy, and engage in addressing social environmental challenges of China-Africa relationship through the action ofyouth.


Their Service

Corporate Social Responsibility / Impact Investment Consulting / CSR Case Studies – Africa Tech Challenge (ATC)

Feasibility Analysis and Program Design / Event Coordination and Execution

Media Promotion and Corporate Image Marketing

Investment Research Reports

What was your biggest motivation when you started your business?

I have been focusing on “China Going Out” project since 2011 and I witnessed the growing interest in this area with limited existence. Therefore I decided to develop this idea from a personal interest to an actual organisation, calling out to more Chinese youth to contribute to this meaningful and interesting career in Africa. This is how my idea gradually became the organisation China House.

How did you find like-minded people to be part of your business?

It is still one of our main challenges till today. As a founder my recent partners are mostly through the networking I did during my university days in Columbia. Nowadays we tend to attract like-minded people from social media platforms at first, then we would choose through tests and interviews. However, the process of building a good partnership or dealing with new business partners still takes a lot of time.

Were your family and friends supportive of your career choice?

They are quite supportive. Especially my mom. She knows that I am happy about my choice and I learn a lot from this career. I feel thankful.

You mentioned that there were mistakes in certain programmes that you run (eg Chinese African Youth Leader Project)? What kind of damage control steps did you take ? How did you manage that situation?

Yes, we used the UNDP logo without their permission in the Chinese African Youth Leader Project. There were misunderstandings so we explain and apologised to them and also to the public right after it happened. More importantly, we learnt from our mistake and made sure that these mistakes would not happen again within our organization.

How do you profit in the future from a business that is driven by a social cause?

In the future, we will cooperate with different international organisations and try our best to get funding for our research and projects. Also, we plan to offer Chinese youth, especially those who want to study abroad a chance to take part in our programmes in Africa. That could help them enrich their background knowledge for their academic applications and we charge them for our service. In the long run, we aim to provide services for Chinese enterprises in Africa through building partnerships and doing research, which takes years to happen, locally and internationally.

Did culture differences come in the way of business negotiation? How do you deal with the cultural differences when you run your programmes?

We are like a bridge between China and Africa, therefore it is impossible for us to avoid all these cultural differences between Chinese communities and African culture. Honestly we get misunderstandingS from both sides: Chinese thinks that we are on the side of the foreigners while African thinks that we speak for the Chinese government and try to benefit from them. I actually saw it coming and I was totally prepared for all these misunderstandings. It helps me stay positive and work hard to solve these problems. It is the only way to make the others understand more about what we are doing: be patient, make dialogue and communicate.

What would you say is the most important element to be a successful entrepreneur?

Having a clear and long-term goal is the most important thing to me. It helps me to not stray from what I wanted to achieve from the beginning. At the same time, I feel that it is important to be nimble so that I can change my strategy at any time in order to meet my goals.


Interview with a Fashion Entrepreneur

Writing about web page http://feldt-clothing.myshopify.com/

audrey.jpg

Interviewee: Audrey

?/2014 ~ Now. Entrepreneur and Creative Director of FELDT - UK

07/2011 ~ 10/2014. Head Designer of YMC - You Must Create - UK

Interviewer: Henry Hyunjun Noh

1. What factors motivated you to become a cultural entrepreneur?

I was quite unhappy at my previous job, and felt like I did not get the opportunity to be as creative as I craved. So it came kind of from a feeling that I just had to get my ideas out there. Not being able to find the clothes that I wanted and knew that other women felt the same way, made me feel really excited and secure to test the waters with my ideas/designs.

2. Were there any reasons in terms of changing your career from a hired professional designer of well-known company to an entrepreneur?

Quite a bit the same as above, but also that I value the thought of being able to travel anywhere at anytime and being able to work from there if so needed. Being my own boss, and making my own decisions is a really empowered feeling. Basically I felt that if the people I was working with/for diddn’t give me the empowerment, creativity , and freedom that I wanted than I was to make it happen for myself.

3. Where does your inspirations come from in the process of designing the products?

The inspiration for our collections comes a lot from basically taking in everything around you on a daily basis. As our brand is meant to be everyday clothing for all seasons, it is important that they work in an everyday basis. From walking the dog, to going to the pub. It is style without sacrificing comfort, and vice versa. The people around me are what inspires the most, I want all the women I know to be able to find something in the collection that they get excited about and can identify themselves with in one way or another. Different artist paintings can inspire to prints and to colours of the collection. Personally I am really inspired by fabrics, for me it all starts with the fabric sourcing. With finding fabrics that inspire me I can start seeing them in different types of styles/garments.

4. What are the opportunities do you think the UK fashion industry has in terms of start-ups?

We haven’t looked into that as much as we should, or will be doing now as we have expanded really quite quickly. I heard that new brands don’t usually sell until the 4th season. But we have sold since our last season, our very first season. And have now expanded quite a bit, so there has really been no time to look into financial opportunities that the UK offer. But we for sure will. One thing that I think is great at least about London, is that everything is around the corner. From cultural inspirations/experiences to fabric agents. We have been very lucky to have been paired up with a great PR and sales agency which of course puts us in front of peoples noses who would have maybe taken longer to notice us otherwise.

5. What are the challenges regarding running the small creative organisation?

The biggest challenges are being able to full fill the minimums for fabrics, and for manufacturing. As being a start up the orders are in smaller quantities. So to be able to buy the fabrics, and pay for manufacturing there is always a surcharge % which increases the cost drastically. Which than brings down the profit drastically. But that is also the part of seeing it as an investment, seeing that a few seasons/years down the line when we hit the minimums our profits will of course than be higher. In the fashion industry you need to always pay everything in advance. As the brand/company you need to pay for fabrics and for manufacturing before receiving payment from the clients/shops. So that is the biggest struggle being a start up, is to actually have the finances to produce after demand.

6. Any advice to the provisional entrepreneurs studying Cultural Entrepreneurship at the University of Warwick?

The best thing that I have noticed for me personally, is that I am extremely happy that I had years of experience in the industry before starting my own company. The experience of working/meeting different people. I have had the privilege to work with different types and sizes of companies to which have no doubt helped me understand things within a company that I wouldn’t have had the chance to get to know had it been otherwise. My recommendation would be to get experience in the field that you would like to start a company in, get to meet people, create contacts. And than always stick to your intuition. Don’t get caught up in what the consumer wants you to do, always stick to your thoughts and what you think is right to keep it true to what you had in mind. I truly believe that is the ticket to making it a success. I am myself struggling with not hearing what buyers for shops have to say, but it is for sure worth working hard to stick to your thoughts and intuitions.


Interview with Emir Cerman from Berklee College of Music

Sorry for the short Turkish speech in the beginning, it was for notifying Emir that I would convert to English at that moment!

This is a Skype interview I made with Emir Cerman, a Turkish musician and an extreme entrepreneur who got in to Berklee College of Music several years ago and has been the reason behind Berklee's action towards opening auditions in Turkey as well. He used to be my guest on my previous radio show back in Istanbul when I was studying my BA degree at Bilgi University and I was struck by his ultimate extraversion, confidence and commitment to who he is doing. He has been leading a creative project called "the Rhythm of the Universe" at Berklee College of Music

Enjoy it!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZK5uaIc0A4


February 21, 2015

Interview with a lifestyle cultural entrepreneur

Interviewee: Qi Fu, 33, female

Interviewer: Zhe Tang


Company: ‘秘会’, ‘Secret Date’, a lifestyle space in Beijing, started in January.

Slogan: ‘a light luxury lifestyle’

Business concept: To provide an after-work space for female professionals in Beijing to get rid of the pressure of workplace with an artistic lifestyle.

Target market: female professionals, age between 28-35, month salary between RMB 20,000-30,000 (GBP 2,083-3,125)

Location: located on east third ring of Beijing, in the capital city’s business area. One station by subway to the city’s CBD and Sanlitun Village, a concentrated area with bars and fashion brand shops frequently visited by trendsetters and white-collars.

Value chain: ‘Secret Date’ operates as a promotion platform to sell artists designs online and run lifestyle sessions offline. Artists and class tutors are paid by certain percentage of commission.

Operation mode

Offline: offline sessions include flower arrangement, drawing, vocal music, reading club, beauty makeup class, etc. personalised design, private party…

Online: sell designer products via online shop on Chinese social media ‘Wechat’

Vision: Bridging the gap between artists and consumers to make art a lifestyle for female professionals.

Mission

Creating a private space for female professionals to enrich their life with artistic tastes.

Giving independent designers and artists the access to mass consumers through the platform.

Entrepreneur background: studied vocal music in Germany for eight years. Came back to China at the age of 28 and worked as a voice teacher for three years in Beijing. Expecting to expand social circle and learn management, Fu joined Chinese job-hunting TV show ‘Only You’, where she won the job of president assistant of Eve Group, a Chinese men’s wear company. Fu left the company in January, 2015 to start her own business.

Q&A:

Q: Why do you want to start your own business?

A: I have a lot of ideas, which I can’t realise when working for someone else, I need a space to make my personal ideas come true. I’ve accumulated many resources in media, PR, fashion and cultural industry through my last job. I want to use my network to promote my friends in these industries as an agency. Designer platforms are becoming popular recently.

Q: Where does your idea come from?

A: Professional women in Beijing with monthly salary under 50,000 yuan (5,211 pounds) can only live a decent rather than luxurious life. I hope to make art a kind of lifestyle instead of something distant from the public. Outside work, I want to enrich their lives with artistic tastes and design, meanwhile affordable.

Q: How did you solve the start-up capital?

A: I have some friends with similar ideas, and each of us take some money to start the business. I worked in men’s wear company, thus have a network with designers and production companies. My partner studied design and worked in jewellery company.

Q: Meaning of the name ‘Secret Date’, and the logo.

A: What I create is an artistic lifestyle space, therefore I want to people to associate it with privacy, secrecy and mystery. That’s how I name the brand and why I use ’S’, the first letter of ‘Secret’, in the logo.

Q: Who is your target customer? Why?

A: The major consuming power in China is the after 80s, who are well educated, with certain proportion having overseas background They are at the most uprising period of their career. I hope these people, from 28 to 35 years old, who care about their life quality, will become my customers. I want to attract them with the concept of ‘art as a lifestyle’, and produce service and products from learning their needs.

Q: Your understanding of the industry, e.g. market size, competition, potential and your advantage.

A: These years Chinese people started to be interested in designer brands and art derivatives. The demand for luxury brands is decreasing. Many designers and artists begin to operate independently, but for artists, there is a contradiction between artistic pursuit and public demand. Products with too much abstract concept can hardly be accepted by the mass market. My advantage is I can use what I have learnt to communicate with designers and artists in a rational way to help them create marketable products. Then use my network resources and operating experience to promote their works.

Q: Profit mode.

A: designer product selling: online specialised design B2C, offline mass production B2B

Offline sessions and activities: membership

Q: Communication strategy.

A: I hope to attract target consumers by cross-brand cooperation and creating events our target consumers interested in, then spread it by social media. Word of mouth is the ideal way as it means recognition from our customers.

note: Fu is currently running a public account of her brand on ‘Wechat', the most popular Chinese social media platform. With friends working in media industry, they produce and release exquisite blogs and photos through the platform. They rely on consumers and friends forwarding these blogs to increase the subscription of their public account to reach more potential audiences.

Q: How does the Chines government support cultural and creative businesses?

A: By now, we haven’t applied for national capital or policy support. As far as I know, the Chinese government is very supportive to cultural and creative businesses. Candidates can apply for national fund, project support etc. For example, each district provides startup enterprises with working space support.



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  • Thanks to Olivia and Oscar for posting this some great questions and food for thought here. by Ruth Leary on this entry

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