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March 19, 2017

Interview with Aiman SAGATOVA, a leatherworker and the owner of the brand `Kazakhsha style`

Writing about web page kazakhshaleatherartstudio.co.uk

Written by Adelbek Japakov and Shensi Wei

Aiman Sagatova

What drove you to start the studio? Before you started have did you plan your business?

Well, I would say it was not a sudden decision and it was linked with my creative ability developed at early ages. I have practiced craft since childhood. At the age of 6, I learnt from my grandmother how to knit socks and blankets. My mother is an architect. By her encouragement, I used to go to the Art Studio, where I acquired basic artistic skills. The environment I grown up was full of aspiration to a fine art. I remember how my artworks had been sold at the age of 10. During the spring holiday, there was an art exhibition. I earned almost a half of Dad`s salary from selling number of paintings. That was a truly exciting and rewarding experience.

I think people are not always sincere in saying that they make art for the sake of art because in order to continue developing yourself as an artist, you have to invest in yourself. Therefore, hand-made artworks should be valued properly; it is not just my hobby it is a lifestyle. I dedicate full time in order to make a living from what I am good at. I previously had a well-paid job in the oil & gas industry as a technical translator. But, when I moved to England, it became obvious that I had to decide either to pursue a career or dedicate my time to bringing up the children. I chose the latter, because life in England is totally different. The first time, I tried to work as a freelance translator, but it did not provide me with a steady income. Then I came up with an idea to apply my artistic skills, and this is one, which brought me money. When I demonstrated the works on the Internet, it was immediately sold out. This was the critical success factor which influenced me to embark on a business that I definitely enjoy.

Work process

Do you do all of this work by yourself or do you employ people?

It is a self-occupied, sole owner business. Therefore, aside doing craft, I have learnt how to do accounting, to address supply of the row materials and to build a customer relationship. It was not plain sailing at the beginning, since you have to be good at multitasking. But, that is the nature of an artisanal business.

Have you tried to get any funding?

I did not rely on funding. Since taking out a loan from a bank, then struggling to pay tax is not an appropriate way to run a small business. Instead, I decided to build my capacity gradually, buying equipment from my first revenue. I, actually, started my business from my personal savings. It was a fixed amount of money, just enough to buy the necessary staff. Then by getting the first orders, I had a chance to drum up my business step by step.

Handbag messanger in Kazakhsha style

How do you advertise and sell your products?

In order to provide consistent flow of overviews, I promote the products in different social media. Except the web-site (kazakhshaleatherartstudio.co.uk), customer buy my product through the various online marketplaces such as an American platform Etsy.com.(www.etsy.com/ru/people/asagatova).

Who are the customers?

Customers are all over the worlds, for example, Australia, America, Russia, Hong Kong, European countries, even from Africa etc. The customers’ geography is an interesting one. Some customers appreciate the handmade products, they want to make statements. Some will ask for special logo or pattern. It is quite customised. I do bespoke leather products according to my customer’s preference. But not all the customers have clear ideas of what the stuff looks like. Different people have different approaches. A customer just showed me a pair of new shoes and wanted to have one. I will produce according to the clients’ budget to and try to meet their requirements.

Ladies Leather belt "Nauryz" tooled and carved in Kazakhsha Style

What makes your products special, and an outstanding Kazakhsha style?

I use leather, the skin is a very versatile material, and from cow, camel or different reptiles. I work with the top layer (full grain), the best part of skin of the animals. And the suppliers are from Italy. It’s plain white material that hasn’t been coloured. I cut, paint and do everything by hand. The material is much more expensive than the normal leather which is not full grain but may be good for sofa and jackets.

`Kazakhsha style` is not just the name. (As it is explained on my web-site profile,) "Kazakhsha" means "to speak Kazakh", but it is also my identity, my very own way to express myself, and being proud of my national heritage. The native elements and the symbols carved on the top of the leather are all reflection of nomadic culture. It reminds me of homeland, and is also the reason why I usually consists the Kazakh pattern in design. Some people have emotional feeling towards Kazakh things and would like to have a Kazakh style element as nostalgia. Some people find it exotic. However, there are many other elements and pattern in my designs, for example, animals and flowers.

Did you have any difficulties when you started your studio?

Sometimes I feel very tired and had no inspiration for my designs.

In terms of business, the biggest difficulty is that it is hard for me to handle all the things. Since I am sometimes overloaded with the orders. Especially during the Christmas deadline. It is important to be on time as I have to provide a good customers’ service.

Future vision for your business?

I will think about hiring someone to help in order to get more customers.

Actually, I had thought about my design or products attracting big brands. However, I suspect it would be incompatible collaboration. Accepting the offer from a big brand means mass producing, whereas, for me, the most important concept is handmaking. It is a professional skill as one of the oldest craftsmanship. It should be emphasised that each of the work is unique. I do understand that my products are not affordable by many people. But, the niche makes it valuable.


March 17, 2016

Qin HUANG-Independent Game Developer

Interviewee: Qin HUANG

Interviewer: Yi Yang & Zhengkai Li

Background:

Qin is a Chinese young independent game developer. When she was 6 years old, she began to play games and when she was 14 years old, she successfully developed her first game named PAIN and gained fame in the industry. Nearly three years later, she established her own independent game studio in Chongqing, China. She has designed several games and also cooperated with a Singapore game developer to make games. After several years’ effort, she realised her weaknesses and decided to go to Canada to gain programming-related knowledge.

Questions & Answers:

What were your initial ideas of being an independent game developer?

When I was 6 years old, I began to play flash games. And about one or two years later, I also began to play CS and other kinds of computer games at that period. I gradually found that current computer games could not meet my demands and I wondered why those great and famous games were mostly designed and made by other countries’ corporations so that I started to think about: how to design and make those games? If possible, why not design and make my own games to the world? As a result, in 2008, I started to learn the Game Maker and RPG Maker, two fundamental game maker programmes. However, to make high-level games, above two programmes were too basic to achieve my goal so that I began to learn Unity 3D, a professional programme to design games. After releasing a game named PAIN on the Indie DB with a good result in the industry, I have become a game developer in China.

How did you establish your own studio?

To be honest, after making my first game PAIN, I realised that there was a long way I needed to go if I wanted to reach a higher goal. I wanted to expand my business but I knew I could not do it along as game developing needs group work. I have to say that attending GDC China was really an excellent experience for me, which helped me to broaden my connections. It is one of the most important conferences for game developers. In the conference, I met numbers of people who have the same goals and aims and I even cooperated with some game developers later. They have their own strengths and have taught me a lot of things from making games to establishing a game studio. From then on, I began to think about establishing a studio. But money and partners were all my problems. After nearly 3 years’ preparation with some of my friends, I finally established my own game studio in my hometown and began to develop my career step by step, from designing to making games.

What obstacles did you face when establishing the studio? And how to overcome them?

The first and most emergent thing was about my professionalism. As a game developer, I am not a genius and my major was not about computer or game developing so that I need to strengthen my professionalism all the time. After developing my own games, I began to learn computer related knowledge via books and online courses. And interestingly, I could gradually read and understand other game developers’ programmes and I can also use more professional programmes to develop my games. However, current knowledge is not enough so that I would continue to study in depth.

And the second problem I faced was about group work. After establishing the game studio, I found it was really a big problem to balance different people in a team. I am a shy girl and I had no idea about interpersonal relationships. I tried to make several games in a group but unfortunately, they were failed. To address it, I visited other successful game studios, such as Coconut Island Studio. Those independent game studios did inspire me and help me to manage a group better.

What is your future plan about your studio and yourself?

The first thing is to broaden my professional skills from game developing to language. I want to develop my business but there is a plenty of obstacles. For example, most independent game developers face language problems when they want to introduce their projects to the western countries, so do I. I am young so that there are numbers of things I could do. As a result, I would go abroad to study programming knowledge and improve my English ability as well. I have successfully applied for a bachelor’s programme in Canada so that in the next four years, I will study programming and designing related courses. I hope my game developing career could be better after my effort.

What do you want to say to other young people who have a willing to set up a new entrepreneurship?

The first sentence is that if possible, do whatever you want to do and it will make you happy. I love games and enjoy playing and developing a new game, even though I often fail to make a completed one. And because I want to make a difference, I have never felt boring when studying programming knowledge even thought I did not like study before.

And then, study is one of the most important things we need to do when we are young. Before I do game developing, I had a negative attitude for study. I did not like study and I even thought that study was not a necessary thing I needed to do and the studio proved that I could make a life by myself. But the more I do for my business, the more willing of study I have because there is a variety of knowledge and skills I need to know.


An interview with Emil – The founder of Hapo

by Yan Diana and Ling Li

Background:

Company Name: Hapo

Introduction: Founded in 2006, Hapo is a city poly system who operates various events combining art, parties and trends into one place. It serves a large range of brands and integrates culture into business. Hapo also creates its own entertainment programme.

1.Question:What makes you decide to be an entrepreneur and start your own business?

Answer:It all started from 2006. At that time I was a sophomore in the university. When I returned to China that year, I found an unique phenomenon that: In the Chinese Bar, people’s age ranges from 30 to 60, and only a very limited proportion of the customers are the young (from 20 to 30 years old). This inspired me to come up with an idea to use party as a method to gather friends and hang out together, which is the same way I used in UK to call for my fellows.

Another indirect reason is my family. As many international students do, when I back to China, I took over the responsibility from my parents to run my family business, bur there were two problems emerged at that time.

Firstly, my parents’ management ideas are different from mine, which resulted in endless quarrels with my family. Furthermore, I felt I can’t realize my personal value and achieve nothing at this stage, with only rare friends in China, eventually I decide to start my own business in 2009.

2.Question:Why did you choose cultural media enterprise as your business?

Answer:Initially, my idea is: Through holding these parties, people can enlarge their social network, and meet with new friends. Because deep down inside, I think Chinese are really living a tough life, it is hard to make people feel happy and relieved in their daily life. Thus, I ask myself why we can’t have a relaxing and blest lifestyle, why we can’t have party like those foreigners? I hope my cultural project can bring happiness to people.

3.Question:How do you ensure your idea is both creative and profitable? How do you promote the creativity in your company?

Answer:In terms of creativity, I really admire Japanese’ innovative ability. They are especially excelled in“secondary innovation”, which means they are talented in adapting and improving those existed outstanding work to perfection. Thus, I believe that best ideas come from learning and imitating; hence many creative ideas of mine were coming from some classical cases outside of China.

When it comes to how to make profit, we didn’t go that further at the beginning stage. But there was a harsh time from 2009 to 2012, it was literally a big challenge for our company. During that period, I made another decision: I went to Beijing for one-year further study. After that our team usually have brainstorming together to think about creative ideas.

4. Questions:From your perspective, what are the most essential traits and skills for an entrepreneur?

Answer:In my opinion, I regard entrepreneurship as a spirit, which comes from the passion of what you love. Meanwhile, you should have a comprehensive understanding, personalized analytical skills and endless enthusiasm on your own business. Of course as an entrepreneur, we need a wide range of knowledge in various domains, such as history, philosophy, psychology and management theory etc. Also, the ability to execute the idea is very important as well. Thus, it is not very easy to be an entrepreneur.

5.Question:Do you have any advice for the students who want to start a business in creative and media industry?

Answer:For those students who want to be entrepreneurs, my advice is: before starting up a business, they should ask themselves which industry they are interested in first. Platform is extremely important for these students. For example, if you are interested in Media, go to a related company and learn sufficient working experience, meeting with more authorities in this field. Do not push yourself too much, in the beginning five years, try to polish up your own skills and knowledge and waiting for the suitable time to start your business.


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


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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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