The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us. If you are wondering how to take on the challenges of a shifting global economy, investing in creative industries entrepreneurs tackles economic, civic and social challenges and is found in every community in every corner of the globe. 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 8-12 percent annually, varying by country. In the United States, the creative economy grew straight through the Great Recession, as opposed to all other sectors.
Growth will continue as a global middle class rises, expanding demand for entertainment, digital media and original content and experiences. Consider this: 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.
However, the creative economy is a sleeping giant because leaders and investors, community and economic developers have mostly left the creative economy on the sidelines, its full potential sitting dormant. Many leaders think only of “the arts” when they hear the word creative.
However, today’s creative companies are anchored in technologies and digital innovations. Take for example Embodied Labs, a virtual reality 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. Akin to tech founders, creative founders are driven by a desire to disrupt a market. Unlike many tech founders, most creative entrepreneurs 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 connected communities.
So how can you unleash the creative entrepreneurs and talent in your community? Here are three tips to get you started:
1.) Find ambitious creative entrepreneurs who have been overlooked. They might be building the next Cirque du Soleil but everyone else sees 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 entrepreneurs who have told us that early on “no one took them seriously” because they were designers, or filmmakers, or musicians.
2.) Host a small gathering with innovative creative founders and investors and ask them to share where they believe your regional creative economy could be more competitive. What assets and competitive advantages do you have that entrepreneurs and investors have already discovered? When we do this, we find investors who are already working with creative companies. They are usually interested in further building out their portfolio along these lines. And the founders are excited to meet investors who share their vision for the region’s future.
3.) Assume you just don’t get it — yet. Creatives are disrupting markets and they see a future the rest of us don’t see. Take for example the story of Meow Wolf, an “artist collective” based in Santa Fe, N.M. When Meow Wolf started out, it sought business support but was told more than once the venture should be a nonprofit. It’s comprised of artists, after all. Today, with over 1 million visitors and $15 million in revenues in less than two years, Meow Wolf’s out-of-this-world exhibit helped multiply their first investors’ funds within three years. It recently closed a $17 million investment with 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, launched the world’s first Indigenous Comic Con to give indigenous youth a chance to see themselves as superheroes. Today Indigenous Comic Con and Lee’s publishing company, Native Realities, are leading a global movement to reframe how indigenous youth see themselves in pop culture. About 300 million indigenous people are eager to move with them. Ivonette Albuquerque, founder of Galpão Aplauso, in São Paulo, Brazil, believed she could build a world class theater company 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 after the program.
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.
Alice Loy is CEO and co-Founder of Creative Startups, headquartered in Santa Fe, N.M. She is author of “Creative Economy Entrepreneurs, From Start Up to Success: How Entrepreneurs in the Creative Industries are Transforming the Global Economy.” For more information, visit creativestartups.org.