The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us. From Boston to Bangladesh, creative entrepreneurs are building companies at the cutting edge of digital fabrication, augmented reality, design and entertainment.
The creative economy is huge, and growing. It generates close to $3 trillion in economic output annually—that’s more than the global telecommunications industry. What’s more, creative economy revenues are expanding eight to 12 percent annually, varying by country. In the U.S., the creative economy grew straight through the Great Recession, unlike all other sectors. This growth will continue as a global middle class rises, expanding demand for entertainment, digital media, and original content and experiences.
Consider: Cirque du Soleil was founded by two street performers who grew it into a global phenomenon and sold it for $1.5 billion to investment firm TPG in 2015. Lynda.com, acquired by LinkedIn in 2015, was started by Lynda Weinman, a graphic designer turned educator. Fashionistas, filmmakers and foodies are launching creative companies that drive value for investors and create high-wage jobs.
But the creative economy is a sleeping giant because many community leaders, investors and economic developers have left it on the sidelines, its full potential sitting dormant. Many leaders think only of “the arts” when they hear the word creative, but today’s creative companies are anchored in technology and digital innovations.
Take Embodied Labs, for example, a VR film company whose films help medical providers understand patient experiences, reducing costs and improving health outcomes. Or Beacon Hill VR, a software firm with artists and gamers on staff who create and bring to life animated AR characters. We suspect leaders overlook the creative economy because they are unfamiliar with its numbers.
Creative entrepreneurs are market disruptors building a better and more inclusive future. The innovators behind creative companies are designers, coders, gamers, musicians and engineers. Like tech founders, creative entrepreneurs are driven by a desire to disrupt a market. Unlike many tech founders, however, most are also inspired by social outcomes such as engaging disenfranchised communities, providing a living wage, and building culturally connected communities. The creative economy is being built by visionaries who strengthen regional identity, increase livelihoods and build these connected communities.
So how can you unleash the talents of creative entrepreneurs in your community? Here are three tips to get you started:
- Find ambitious creative entrepreneurs who’ve been overlooked. They might be building the next Cirque du Soleil, but others may them as clowns. With fresh eyes, you might see a billion-dollar business in the making. I have worked with startups who became extremely successful, but told us that early on “no one took them seriously” because they were designers, filmmakers or musicians.
- Host a small gathering with innovative, creative founders and investors. Ask them to share where they believe your regional creative economy could be more competitive. What assets and competitive advantages do you have that have already been discovered? Doing this, we find investors who are already working with creative companies and are usually interested in further building out their portfolio along these lines. Meanwhile, the founders are excited to meet investors who share their vision for the region’s future.
- Assume you just don’t get it… yet. Creatives who disrupt markets are seeing a future the rest of us don’t see. Take the story of Meow Wolf, an artist collective based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. When they started out, they sought business support but were told more than once their venture should be a nonprofit. (They are artists, after all.) Today, with more than one million visitors and $15 million in revenues in less than two years, Meow Wolf’s out-of-this-world exhibits helped multiply their investors’ funds within three years, and it recently closed a $17 million investment by Alsop Louie Partners from Silicon Valley.
Meow Wolf is not alone in its ability to see a market before it has fully convened. Lee Francis, founder of Native Realities publishing company, launched the world’s first Indigenous Comic Con to give indigenous youth a chance to see themselves as superheroes. Today, Indigenous Comic Con and Native Realities are leading a global movement to reframe how indigenous youth see themselves in pop culture.
Ivonette Albuquerque, founder of Galpão Aplauso in São Paulo, Brazil, believed she could build a world-class theater company by employing youth living in São Paulo’s favelas. Today, she has trained over 10,000 youth—nearly all of whom go on to find well-paying jobs.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, like all good revolutions, is disrupting social and economic structures, forcing leaders to rethink old strategies and adapt to new realities. Relentless creativity and imagination will win the day. Fortunately, a giant ally is waiting in the wings. All you need to do is wake it up. PM
Alice Loy is CEO and co-founder of Creative Startups and author of Creative Economy Entrepreneurs From Startup to Success. For more information, visit creativestartups.org.