MEGA SA is running a call for participants to this year’s program, the deadline is July 6th – this Friday. I have shared their call a few times over social media but I felt it worth a blog post to explain why I think this is worth your time.
Back when it started out MEGA was an acronym for ‘mobile enterprise growth alliance’ – swanky biz-speak for ‘a training program to help mobile service/content/application startups to develop their ideas, learn about market research, how to write business plans and develop fundraising pitches’. You could bring your initial startup idea (perhaps even prototyped but needing extra team members, skills or cash) or you could just rock up with enthusiasm and find a team to build an idea with. At the end of the program you would present your (now perfected) pitch to a panel of potential investors (including some from the mobile industry) and get some actual cash to develop your concept.
It’s a smart model, and is run by a genuinely passionate group of managers and mentors under the wise gaze of the truly fabulous Peta Pash (who also has the best name ever!). These days it’s still called MEGA but it’s open to entrepreneurs working with any kind of digital business, not just mobile-focused.
How do I know this? Because when I first moved to Australia in 2008 I went through the program. I’d been running a mobile/emerging arts organisation, the-phone-book Limited, for eight years, which had visited Australia three times before I finally moved over. Although I was closing that company down to start a new life here I was still interested in what such an incubator could offer – and what I could offer it. In later years, working for the Australia Council for the Arts, my program supported artists to go through MEGA in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.
Why would an artist want to go on a business incubator?
Most of the people who read this blog and follow/chat with me over social media are artists. Most artists couldn’t care less about business; in fact many hate the admin side of being self-employed and assume all business is just boring admin. Either that or we mistrust business as a concept and assume that any business interest in us (or ‘the arts’ more broadly) is just from people richer than us wanting to use our pretty things to make them look good, but not prepared to pay a cent for it because they are ‘giving us exposure’. I’ve straddled arts & business for many years now. I share a hatred of admin and a suspicion of ‘bad’ business models. But there are also ‘bad’ arts models – and good business models!
“being an artist is a lot like being an entrepreneur”
The point I think a lot of artists miss is that being an artist is a lot like being an entrepreneur. Both have vision and an almost obsessive desire to see that vision come to life. Both try hard to capture this vision in some kind of presentable form so that it can be ‘sold’ to ‘investors’.
Artists create a project proposal and portfolio, fill in endless application forms to present our case and value to funders, ask friends and family for support, get ‘McJobs’ working elsewhere to cover costs, or more recently try the crowdfunding route. A small percentage of projects get off the ground. Those projects might propel that artist into stardom, or might teach the artist a whole bunch of valuable lessons that they take on to the next project. Startup businesses create the business plan before applying for startup and innovation grants, ask friends and family for support, get ‘McJobs’ working elsewhere to cover costs, or more recently try the crowdfunding route. A small percentage of startups get off the ground. Those startups might propel that team into stardom, or might teach the team a whole bunch of valuable lessons that they take on to the next startup.
See what I mean?
Sure we often play in different spheres, and budgets in some areas might totally tip the scales. But I’ve seen some great businesses start up on less money than some artists receive in a grant for just one project. There are swings and roundabouts.
Media artists & accidental intellectual property development.
What I’m trying to convey is that there’s a really exciting place where arts and business thinking can coexist – and more importantly, can really help each other go further than either would have done in isolation.
Not every art concept is commercially viable, of course not. But many media artists accidentally develop valuable solutions in the course of their experiments. To them it might be ‘how to solve the problem of public interaction with a screen in the open air’ in order to make an artwork. To a business, or to a non-arts industry, this weird nerdy arts solution might actually solve the problem of complex movement flow in congested public spaces like airports or in emergency scenarios.
Gavin Artz, the outgoing CEO of ANAT (The Australian Network for Art & Technology) and one of the MEGA mentors calls this “Ancillary IP“. Since ‘creating a sustainable source of revenue for the creative industries through emerging platforms like mobile phones and the internet’ was my mission statement with the-phone-book Limited, this is something we have nerdily ranted about often! The artist doesn’t necessarily have to go on and start a commercial business, but with some smart thinking the revenue from the sale of this innovation could support their next creative venture – without having to go begging to arts funders, friends, family and the crowd!
Like I said, not all art concepts have commercial viability. And not all artists want to learn about business models, market research, cashflow forecasts, and how to pitch to a panel of investors. But some do. For those people, MEGA is a really great place to learn, receive mentoring support – and maybe even get some money behind you. Now I’m freelance again I’m honestly tempted to go for it again myself… it even starts on my birthday which could be a sign ;P
Special application rates for artists.
If you’re interested in applying but the cost is prohibitive, tell them you spoke to me, explain your situation, and you will be eligible for a fee discount – possibly even a complete waiver. The application form is really minimal, you don’t need to submit a business plan, you just need to show your enthusiasm. If you have a team then you can enter as a group, but if you’re working solo at the moment & need help finding a team that’s fine too. The program this year is just in SA but you can travel in from interstate if time/resources grant you such luxury.
If you’re not sure if you or your work is suited to such a program feel free to chat with me about it here, on twitter, or by email (headgeekATtechnoevangelistDOTnet). I know the program, the people, and the difficulties of sitting in between arts and business; I can help.
If you go for it, good luck – and tell me how it goes!
UPDATE July 4th: There’s a great post here about a local artist, Jimmy McGilchrist, who went through the process with his ancillaryIP – a perfect example of what I was talking about above! http://filter.org.au/issue-77/mega-from-starving-artist-to-sustainable-business/
Oh… and it looks like I might well be on the program again this year *strokes chin thoughtfully*. Come and play!