Startups & Accelerators in Museums
Startup accelerators have become an integral part of helping early-stage companies build, fund and bring to market new products and ideas. Recently, we’ve come to see startups & accelerators in museums, such as the New Museum, ACMI, and Te Papa.
These museums are looking to the models of accelerators, incubators and co-working spaces to bring together entrepreneurs, hackers and cultural practitioners in hopes of driving innovation and generating new ideas.
While still in the early days, the question stands: Is this an experiment, a fad or a new trend?
This session examines the impact of startup mindset in the museum sector, the tangible and intangible value of building new partnerships with entrepreneurs and niche audiences. As museums look to expand reach beyond their walls, could these initiatives help them jump-start and accelerate this internal and external evolution.
Founder and CEO,
PIE (Portland Incubator Experiment)
Brendon: Hello, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Brendan Ciecko, and here we have, Rick.
Rick: Hi there. I’m Rick Turoczy, from the Portland Incubator Experiment. And, we’re here today to talk to you about incubators and accelerators in museums.
Brendon: Absolutely. So, the last couple of years, we’ve noticed something very interesting. The methodologies that drive the start-up community, the start-up world, have made their way in museum practice and culture, [but that] the business at a [model] level, as well as in other areas. And, what really caught our eye, is that museums are now starting to create incubators, accelerators, and co-working spaces. So, for the next half an hour, we’re going to dive a little bit into this area. It’s going to be informal, we have no slides.
We’re going to start with a little bit of introduction. So, I was diving deep into, Rick, your background, and I came across your kick starter, page four, the Portland Incubator Experiment you wrote, what is it, and why should I care? So, I’m asking flat out, who the hell are you, and why should we care about you?
Rick: That’s a very good question, and I probably do not have a very good answer to it. But, I’m, kind of, a serial entrepreneur, here in Portland, so I’ve been in the start-up community, working in, on, and around start-ups, for more than 20 years, primarily in tech, but also more and more in traditional industries. And, about eight years ago, we started this project called PIE, which was a collaboration between the Portland start-up community, and the advertising agency here in town, called [Unintelligible 00:01:51].
And, [unintelligible 00:01:54], I’ll be looking into some of that a little bit later. But, I think the most important thing to keep in mind with PIE is, we take the word experiment in our tagline very, very seriously. So, we are constantly trying to reinvent the project, and constantly trying to look for ways that we can both, better serve the community, and better serve well-established organisations, like museums, or universities, or corporations, who are interested in collaborating with the community to mutual benefit. So, we’re not looking for it just to be a one-way street. For the start-ups, we always want our partners and more established organisations to get something out of the relationship as well.
Brendon: Well, just a few weeks ago, [unintelligible 00:02:39] called [unintelligible 00:02:41] visitor engagement, with over 100 museums across the country in that area. I started designing and developing technology when I was 11 years old, and used that as a tool to break into the music industry. I’ve work with Katie Perry, and [Unintelligible 00:02:54] entertainment brands, and then, about six or seven years ago, a New York City organisation, [unintelligible 00:03:03], reached out to my company, asking for advice and service around the digital world. And, we took on that project, and quickly saw how painful and frustrating [unintelligible 00:03:14] elements of technology were. And, we took on that project as a passion, that really started to evolve into something larger.
As it pertains to this discussion, my company went through a start-up accelerator called Techstars, over in Boston. I’m an investor in companies that have gone through Tech Stars, [my company] are in 500 start-ups, which are some of the top incubators. And, I also mentor and advise companies through Harvard’s innovation lab, as well as the [MIT] enterprise Forum. So, kind of, intersecting a lot of different worlds.
We want to give you a couple of definitions, before we dive any deeper but, even before that, has anybody ever watched that show, the Shark Tank? Okay a couple of hands go up. Okay, so you’re interested in people humiliating themselves on national stage, to talk about [unintelligible 00:04:08]. So, a lot of those companies that go up are start-ups, and to talk a little bit about, well, what is a start-up, take us away, Rick.
Rick: Sure. Yes, I think, again, in our industry we tend to talk in a lot of, like, specific language, and lexicons. So, if I say anything that you don’t understand what I’m talking about, please throw up a hand, and I’ll explain it. But, I just, kind of, sometimes get the buzz word bingo, and accurately explain stuff.
So, in our lexicon, the way we think about start-ups are, it doesn’t have anything to do with the age of the company, or the size of the company, it really has to do with the ability of that company to scale rapidly, the ability of that company to be efficient with financial resources. And, the aspect that it’s not really at a point where it can survive on its own, it’s not generating enough revenue, it’s not really a proven product market fit, for us specifically. But, it’s really that’s about the basis of it all.
A lot of people come to me and say, well, if a company is ten years old, can it still be a start-up? Well, yes, it can, it can change its strategy, it can come up with a new product offer, and it can come with a more efficient way [of a scale] thanks to technology [unintelligible 00:05:38]. So, we don’t put a lot of parameters around the types of start-ups we work with, we’re just really interested in the people who are engaged in that business, and their desire to scale the business.
Brendon: Absolutely. And, for me, I look at it as companies that are looking to achieve high growth, with limited resources, in either uncertain times, or uncertain markets. If you look at some elements of that definition, you can even apply it to museums and cultural organisations today.
Rick: Totally. I think that museums today have been built for a specific purpose, and acquired their assets for a specific purpose. But, creatively thinking about other ways, you know, you were talking about just space, as an example, creatively thinking about ways that you can activate those assets, in different ways for the community, or in different ways to engage a population, is pretty start-up from a museum perspective.
Brendon: And, for a lot of these start-ups, you often find that they go through things called incubators, or accelerators, to help them speed up their development, the way they go to market, or even find funding. So, to just lay out two or three more definitions, an accelerator usually operates under a covert model, where there’s maybe ten or 20 companies, that are together for about three or four months, to take what would otherwise have been achieved over maybe a year, year and a half, condense that to about three or four months, and to present to the world [unintelligible 00:07:07]. They’re usually enthused with some level of capital, whether it be $10,000, $200,000, and surrounded by mentors, who have been there, done that, from organisations to $100 million in revenue, or even IPO. But, it’s really about that mentor process.
And then, incubators, well, we have an incubator expert to my left, so I’m not going to take on that one.
Rick: Sure. Yes. And, I would say, Portland is the land of [unintelligible 00:07:33], we call ourselves an incubator, we function as an accelerator half the time, so just call it PIE, and ignore what the I actually stands for. The difference for us, between incubators and accelerators, is we feel that an incubator is a space that’s very protected of the company being formed. So, it’s still fledgling, it still can’t really survive on its own, and still doesn’t really even understand who its potential customer might be. Whereas, an accelerator, to Brendon’s point, we feel that is real life. There’s still some protective tissue there for the company, but it’s really designed to expose you faster to the real world, and, kind of, stress test whether your business, and your founders, concepts, can actually survive in the real world. So, whereas, an incubator is protected, an accelerator is less so.
Brendon: Yes. And, to add to that, historically, the incubators have been set up to take a bunch of brilliant people, throw them together, expose them to capital, have them, kind of, brew up new ideas, or new companies. So, the term start-up factory, or incubator, are often used interchangeably, but today, again, they’re, kind of, flipped back and forth. And, that brings us to our next point, about incubators and accelerator, and even co-working spaces, everybody is doing it.
So, all humour aside, we’re now seeing more corporations, more universities, even government is creating incubators and accelerators to, kind of, jump start R&D or new products. So, just two or three weeks ago, the United States Airforce, announced a partnership with [Tech Stars] to do this. And, here in Portland I read that you guys have what Land Rover?
Rick: Yes, Jaguar Land Rover.
Brendon: Jaguar Land Rover, high end.
Brendon: And so, starting to see, actually, thousands of incubators pop up around the world. But, taking it to the museum context, the New Museum in New York City, was one of the first museums to really latch onto this idea. I think of a lot of it paralleled their needs at the time, as well as some of the interactions the museum leadership had with leaders in the tech sector, and venture capital sector, and the [trading] sector, to use this as a way of driving innovation, and really extending what a lot of contemporary art museums have today, a great interest in cultivating [unintelligible 00:10:08], new places for ideas. So, they call themselves the first museum incubator.
And then, over in New Zealand, at TePapa their museum is working with entrepreneurs through what we would call, a seed accelerator. So, this was the first museum in the world, with some support from corporate partners, and the New Zealand Government, to say, we are going to give companies tens of thousands of dollars, individually, to solve some of our deepest, darkest problems. And, we, in exchange, will have skin in the game, we’ll have equity, or shares, or spots in these companies.
And, it’s been really interesting to see that, and I wonder, you know, based on your interactions, do you see that happening in Portland, do you see more of this happening across, you know, different sectors?
Rick: Absolutely, yes. I think there are two distinct trends, one that’s positive, and one that’s more negative. I think the negative one is, a lot of people are recasting the existing activity as an incubator or accelerator. So, you’ll see a large corporation R&D shop go, well, we’re not research and development anymore, we’re an incubator, or we’re an accelerator. Which is really just doing the same activity, and putting a new name on it.
I think the stuff that’s positive and really exciting is, people who are looking at these accelerator models, be it through programmes like Techstars, who are, kind of, taking this sort of stuff on their own, and creating their own programmes. Taking the learnings from the community, because this is still relatively new, I mean, even those successful accelerators in the world are ten years old, or so, I mean, they haven’t been doing it that long. And, a lot of them, let’s say, Tech Stars [unintelligible 00:11:59] aside, a lot of them are still trying to figure out, like, the model that will work for them. I know we [wandered] in that situation as well.
But, here in Portland, we have seen [unintelligible 00:12:13], we have the North American Headquarters for [Unintelligible 00:12:17] Trucks here in town, they’ve built an accelerator focused on the employers. So, that same process that Brendon described, they bring employees into a three month cohort, and kind of give them this hot potato problem, and say, go fix this. You know, there’s no political suicide, go and fix this problem and figure it out. Then, we’ve also had collaborations with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, across the river, that [you all might] get a chance to visit while you’re here. We’ve had some collaborations with them, around space and incubators, and that kind of thing.
Brendon: So, I’ve been around the country, and I’ve tasted a lot of delicious pie, but I have not tasted Portland pie. So, tell me a little bit about the PIE, our interpretation of it, or rather your inception of the Portland Incubator Experiment.
Rick: So, as I mentioned before, PIE was originally a collaboration between the Portland start-up community, and the company Wieden + Kennedy. And, if you’ve never heard of Wieden + Kennedy, that’s not a big surprise they tend to keep a pretty low profile, but you’ve probably encountered some of their work. So, they are things like Nike Just Do It, they’re the Coca Cola polar bears, the Old Spice Guy, the new Colonel Sanders, they do big brand, kind of, advertising, generally television advertising.
And, a lot of people, obviously, out there would say what was the motivation to get involved with the start-up community. And, at the time, they were just about 2008/2009, there weren’t a lot of start-up people, or people with significant technical acumen, that were drawn to go to work for an advertising agency. And yet, they were getting a lot of interest from clients, and from both existing clients and new clients that work hard at technology.
So, originally, PIE just served as a think tank, co-working space for that. So, we were downstairs in their building, so they would be able to come downstairs, hang out with the start-up types, say, how would you go about solving this problem, or, hey, we have this idea, is that viable, or should we pursue a different path, is there somebody we can partner with. So, it was really just a collaboration [beyond models and businesses].
Brendon: And so, expand upon that in the area you mentioned earlier, you’ve done some work, you know, with this PIE concept, with this incubator think tank concept, with the local Museum of Science and Industry.
Rick: Yes, so what we did at [unintelligible 00:14:59] was again, back to that, they had an answer that was available, and we collaborated to activate that asset. So, they were redoing their [IMAX], you know, transitioning it from traditional projection to digital projection. And, if you visit [unintelligible 00:15:21], there’s this glass thing, that we call the fish bowl now, but it was the projection until. So, you could walk up, see how the projection unit worked, watch all the moving parts. And, when they shifted to digital they no longer need that space for the projection unit, so they [unintelligible 00:15:37] 1,500 to 2,000 square feet.
And, they were really interested in engaging with the start-up community, but beyond events we don’t really have a way to do that. So, we brainstormed about how we can get the start-up community more engaged, and that space really became an exercise. So, with that 2,000 square feet, we created, first, a co-working space, in collaboration with them. And then, eventually, you know, a version of the PIE called the Oregon Story Board, which works particularly on companies that are focus on digital story telling. So, web designers, film makers, virtual reality [unintelligible 00:16:18], all things that the museum was interested in, from a communication stand point, but they could, kind of, hang out, understand how the start-ups worked [unintelligible 00:16:28], and look for opportunities for extending the collaboration with the museum.
Brendon: So, that specific collaboration reminds me a lot of what’s going down at the Acne, over in Australia right now. Where, essentially, similar to this, they had some growth needs, some real estate needs, some additional office space that they needed. So, in the process of growth, they were looking at ways to better leverage the space and, as part of that, they said, well, why don’t we create a co-working environment, where we’re fully invested in the creative community, we want to engage these audiences, and we could benefit by having this community, you know, shoulder to shoulder, or at least interacting in new ways with our staff. Did you see a lot of that take place?
Rick: Yes, we did. Does everyone know what co-working is, or is that foreign? So, just to define it, co-working is, basically, a shared workspace, generally an open shared workspace, for a variety of companies that wouldn’t otherwise be able to take out this prominent space. So, it’s, kind of like, a shared community space.
Brendon: So, small, even large companies use it, because there’s this [unintelligible 00:17:43] energy, and let’s say one month there are 50 people, and the next month there are 80 people, which is not uncommon in vibrant companies. To sign a five year lease with a landlord is nearly impossible, so it allows for this agility in the space, which is really wonderful and, kind of, plug and play [unintelligible 00:18:01].
Rick: Yes, we see a lot of that activity here in Portland, where we’re experiencing a tremendous amount of growth in our regional offices. So, companies that are headquartered in the Bay area of Seattle or New York, want [a presence] for our talent base leverage, so we’re getting a lot from that. To get back to your question about collaborations with the museum. We did find very much the same thing here, that we found with Wieden Kennedy, where executives from the museums, or creatives from the museum, would often take the chance to engage with the companies we had brought into the space, just as a means of brainstorming.
There were a few activations, because we had a few, kind of like, traditional film studio companies, and the museum understood, this is how to use a film studio, this is what we can gain, this is what we can leverage to make this happen. But, when it came to things like virtual reality, or [crypto] currency, or things like that, they would … that was a better exploration for them, because it was really pushing the museum’s creative boundaries, as well as the start-ups.
Brendon: It reminds me a little, in a more business sense, of the artist in residence, the creatives in residence, the entrepreneur in residence, and I’m starting to see a lot more of that pop up. So, as a museum, you can, kind of, imagine, if you are actively exploring crypto currency, or block chain, which is honestly something we’re seeing a lot more of you, if you flip through [unintelligible 00:19:30] you’ll see more of it, and how it’s impacting the art world, and the creative practice, in addition to BR and AR. Having a practitioner, who is a hacker or hustler, or an entrepreneur, in your space, kind of, permeates across departments, and gives everybody early access to these ideas, which is hugely valuable.
Rick: Yes, and I think, even just having the chance to have conversations with people who are immersed in your field of expertise, you know, tech is … [unintelligible 00:20:04] from the tech perspective, because tech is notoriously guilty of just being an echo chamber, it’s a lot of reinforcement and [the same things], over and over again. So, my motivation was to get different perspectives for those people to hear, and I think the museum benefitted as well.
Brendon: So, what do you think were some of the tangible and intangible benefits, in addition to some of the things we just mentioned?
Rick: Yes, I think tangible was, it was a few projects, here and there, you know, as I have mentioned. Some engagement, creative resources for the museum, that they might have otherwise had a harder time coming across this, and they just wanted to be engaged with that community in that fashion. But, I think, one of the intangible bits is, we saw the museum, I’m not going to say they embraced risk and failure, but we saw them have more ability to risk things that might not pay off. So, you know, be that something as simple as start-up events, or participating in hackathons, or even we were actually dove tailed really nicely with their official engagement with [Maker Fair]. So, they were exploring a variety of tangents, kind of, simultaneously, and I think they all fed off of one another.
Brendon: Yes. So, I mean, we see in our conversations, a lot of inspiration, and new perspectives, and even off of what you mentioned with failure, that concept has started to make its way a couple of years back into the museum, a dialogue, not only at the technology conferences, but also at [AAND] conferences, where directors are saying, fail fast, fail often, fail forward, but don’t fail on Broadway, [or don’t fail like the dad], for that matter.
And so, that becoming an accepted part of leadership, accepted part of growth and experimentation, it seems that having one of these environments, where you have people who are fully immune to risk, they’re running forward, they’re building [unintelligible 00:22:11], or they’re building their parachute while jumping. Versus these traditional institutions that have been even around for a century, some of that starts to rub off in both areas. And, I think, one area where the tech sector needs to [unintelligible 00:22:28], there’s certainly leadership taking place in the [corporate] sectors around accessibility and inclusion.
You pick up a newspaper in the last couple of months, you’ve seen Google and Uber under fire for a lot of these things, and I think our community has a lot to learn from what’s happening, you know, from an education perspective around inclusion and accessibility. So, those are ways that [we wanted to help].
Rick: Yes, absolutely. And, where we here in Portland are with the diversity and inclusion issues, as well, I think there’s some interesting opportunities there. If you [unintelligible 00:23:01] United States of America so, I mean, I think we just inched out Minneapolis a couple of years back. So, the challenges we are seeing are really that separation, or that distraction of the community.
So, we have an established black community back here in town, we have established Latino communities here in town, but they’re not connected to the white tech community. So, really, a lot of what we’ve been doing initially with PIE, through our university inclusion incubator, is just really getting into the communities, meeting the communities where they are, and trying to raise the visibility of the amazing entrepreneurs and founders, who are already working in these communities, they’re just not [unintelligible 00:23:50].
Brendon: And, some, like, [unintelligible 00:23:52] on top of this, you know, this is our first-time meeting, and it wasn’t after our first conversation by phone that [the then] notable venture capitalist in Boston, posted an article about your inclusion framework here in Portland. So, I was, like, oh my God, this is great, this isn’t just talk, this is actual action.
Rick: Well, I mean, hopefully, yes, because we’re starting small, it’s going to be awkward and difficult, the communities I think have been willing to desal with some of that awkwardness, so it’s been a great collaboration in that regard. But, I also am hopeful that, again, if we can create some things here in Portland, maybe programmatic, or process, or just [unintelligible 00:24:35], then hopefully we can export some of those findings to other communities that are struggling with these issues. And, we can create a feedback loop, where we can all be trying to figure out how to solve this problem.
Brendon: [Unintelligible 00:24:47] open sourcing this as a model that other cities and communities can benefit from. So, we are to look at museums as experience factories, you know, are there any opportunities to open these venues, these places, these communities, as a sound box, to entrepreneurs, to technologists, to hackers, to creators to drum up new ideas. And, I’m, kind of, talking beyond [unintelligible 00:25:13], and bringing it back to these incubators and accelerators. What do you think yourself, what do you see?
Rick: I think there’s definitely an opportunity there, I think that …
Brendon: Wow, what does PIE look like? What does the museum [unintelligible 00:25:26] look like?
Rick: I think the challenge is really, at least in my experience, there are two things. One, I feel like a lot of folks in a museum environment, whether intentional or not, play more of, kind of, the landlord role. There’s not an interest to get engaged, like, we have space you can use, we’ve done any number of tech events in this very space right here, we’ve done tech events at [unintelligible 00:25:59], and that in relation [to the Board’s time], it’s a very transactional relationship.
I think the challenge has been engaging the staff in a valuable and meaningful way, and engaging the staff broadly. So, one of our other challenges is, just dealing with execs, or people higher up in the organisation, that might not be one of the best ideas. They come from all kinds of levels in the organisation, and so one of our jobs is, again, kind of, meeting folks where they are, and trying to engage in the full stack of the museum. We’ve found that really effective, especially from a [venture] stand point.
So, we’ve dealt with huge brands, like Coca Cola, and [unintelligible 00:26:47], and Google, and folks like that, down to local corporations, that provide mentors and museums who provide mentors. And, I think, consistently, the challenge always is, helping folks, kind of, take off their museum hat, or their brand hat, and just be successful people, expressing their opinions and guidance about ideas. And, once we can crack that, then that becomes a more authentic and realistic engagement, and it allows the museum folks to get deeper conversation going with people. Then, they can, kind of, take that back to the organisation. I always think of like a diplomatic convoy, they understand, they’ve learned how to speak the language, and then they can go back in and train for the rest of the staff.
Brendon: It’s definitely a tough nut to crack. And, just speaking from my experiences in Boston, and one of the great, kind of, benefits or advantages that I’ve seen in Boston, that’s starting to be explored, and I haven’t even seen much of this in San Francisco or other cities. Is, on the boards of directors and trustees of some of the organisations, there is a proactive action taken by the Museum Director, to say, we see how this sector is inventing the future, creating technology, achieving things that people thought were impossible, we want these minds on our board.
So, in Boston, at the Institute of Contemporary Art, which is one of the oldest contemporary art museums in the country, they have the inventor of the android, [unintelligible 00:28:20] the inventor of the android, which is, kind of, crazy. And then, [unintelligible 00:28:25] they have the cofounder of [Bright Grove] which, at one time, was running, I think, most of the video on the internet. And, these individuals proactively host sessions and panels, and try to bring in the community, the tech community, so that there’s interaction that the cultural community can benefit from, and vice versa.
So, we’ve seen a lot of really interesting things take place, you know, based off the passion that the individuals in tech have for culture, and education. As well as the director saying, wow, wow, wow, we have this amazing community, and our audiences are shifting, how do we trap this audience, and get their perspective and their expertise.
Rick: Yes, and then we’re starting to see some of that activity in Portland. We have a project that we’ve been working on for a couple of years, it doesn’t have a full name, again, we refer to it as the innovation [unintelligible 00:29:17]. But, it is a project [unintelligible 00:29:24] State University, Portland Community College, Portland Art Museum, it’s a variety of organisations that have typically served as cultural and educational institutions, who are trying to work together to help better provide the resources that start-ups and companies need, to …
Brendon: … leadership panels, or [unintelligible 00:29:47] operate like data start-ups, and becoming more data driven in their processes. So, it looks like a really great future in, kind of, the transfer of information between those two sectors. And, a proactive welcome for a new model, or new models, that aren’t going to maybe disrupt, or change, or completely flip things on their head, but are things that you can learn from, from sectors outside of yourself.
I think that’s the most beautiful thing when you’re looking at, really, any spaces, if you work in a museum, what can you learn from what’s being done in the entertainment industry, or the music industry, or start-ups. And, if you work in a start-up, what can you learn from what’s happening in higher ed, or the in the sciences, or other spaces.
Rick: Yes, I totally agree, and I think one of the challenges, with any established organisation, is you get very much in the mode of thinking about big vision, kind of, distant future, and achieving those goals. And, what I’ve learned, from the start-up community is that, no successful founders are equally visionary. And, in reality, most everyone can be visionary, wouldn’t it be great if this existence … wouldn’t this be an idyllic presence, if five years from now we were able to accomplish x.
But, I think that the best organisations, and the best start-ups, have this, kind of, back and forth battle with themselves about, yes, that’s the grand vision, that’s where we want to go. But, this is what we’re doing today, this is what we’re doing in the next hour, this is what we’re doing before lunch. Get the next step forward toward achieving that great vision, and not getting so wrapped up in that grand vision.
And, kind of, part and parcel of that is, I’m always encountering the desire for everything to be built in-house, or from the ground up in newly established organisations. They seem to lose this willingness to, kind of, pull existing things off the shelf, and bolt them together and try something, and that’s how start-ups live, right, they can’t afford to build everything from scratch, they don’t have the time to build everything from scratch, so this idea of just cobbling together potential solutions, and testing them [unintelligible 00:32:12].
Brendon: That’s interesting [unintelligible 00:32:14], I’ve been making my [unintelligible 00:32:16] into a [unintelligible 00:32:19]. And, one of the things that the write points to is, outsource everything you’re not the best at. And, I think that ability to be comfortable, that you’re not going to be the best at everything, as an organisation, as an institution, as a company, and to find partners that can bolster that pull that can have, to help you do it faster, easier, or with more experimentation [unintelligible 00:32:42].
Brendon: I think we’re ready for questions, if there are any questions. Yes.
Question: You mentioned that in Portland there’s partnership [unintelligible 00:32:57] and companies that [unintelligible 00:32:59] resources, or [unintelligible 00:33:03].
Rick: Yes. So, I would describe a project that was a collaboration among universities, and corporations, and what they were doing in creating this space for innovation, and kind of pushing the [unintelligible 00:33:25]. That’s currently just called the innovation quadrant, so that’s, kind of like, the working title, it doesn’t have an official thing yet. But, some of the organisations, just to reiterate, [unintelligible 00:33:39] is super involved in that, [Unintelligible 00:33:42], Portland State University, which is our major urban university, and the Portland Community College. Also, Portland General Electric, [GE Healthcare] from the private side, have been deeply involved. And, that is really, to the credit of Erin Flynn, who is leading the organisation, that’s really the first time all those groups have been in the same room and having a conversation. We’ve traditionally been challenged by [unintelligible 00:34:13] in higher ed to talk to one another effectively, and she’s actually got all these folks talking together. So, it’s still early, but it’s an interesting project.
Brendon: And, now we have [unintelligible 00:34:24]. So, Ian, I’m going to answer your question, and I’ll actually follow up with a bunch of tweets for a bunch of the companies. So, Ian, has asked the question, what are examples of some museum focused start-ups. And, I’ll give you the handles in a couple of different areas. So, as an example, museum focused start-up, as a founder, I’m not going to go into anything more, because I don’t want to be a standing advertisement. Sketch Pad, is doing some amazing work in the cultural sector, other organisations bring 3D renderings into an environment, that people can easily access, share and comment on. So, it’s great to see more presence, you know, that they have at conferences, and how much they value the cultural sector.
There’s a company called [Dex Fit], which is helping using [unintelligible 00:35:10] cultural organisations, understand their data quickly and more effectively, without needing an in-house data scientist. So, [Ralph Fines is] actually on the board of that company, so they’re doing really fantastic work. And, even companies that are involved, [Like New Inc] in New York, there are a couple of them that are collaborating closely with the museum, and exploring how block chain can be used to authenticate art, and that transfer that takes place. Then, there’s a slew of companies, that are jumping on the virtual reality train, to explore, you know, what that looks like for the cultural experience, remotely, and on the site.
So, I will tweet a bunch your way, as I think it’s helpful to see who is out there, what they’re doing. The fact of the matter is, there’s not a lot, so only six out of 1,000 companies get funding for their idea. In the cultural sector, there hasn’t been enough exits or proof to the investment community to keep on funding those types of companies. So, there aren’t a lot, which makes it easy for me to tweet those in 140 characters. But, great question.
And then, the next question, oh my god, these are up here, okay. So, the next question, do you ever engage with collections of museums? There are a couple of elements around that, but right now one of the hottest and most active areas in start-up and in venture capital community, are anything where you can add AI to it, or machine learning, or machine vision. So, the computer’s ability to understand, and to learn [unintelligible 00:36:50] trained to do that. And so, we’re seeing a lot of that applied to museum collections, where Google has partnered with people … Google is not really a start-up, but tech companies have partnered with museums to help them analyse their information.
Start-ups are doing the same thing, if you are a young start-up, spearheading on device machine learning for device recognition, here’s an easy place where you can get massive loads of data, where there’s metadata to verify museum collections. So, with some of the open access and open [EPI] initiatives, start-ups and hackers, and technologists, are leveraging their collection of information, as part of their process.
And then, should museums risk their cash on start-ups? I’ll let you jump on that one.
Rick: Yes, I think we talked about that [unintelligible 00:37:48]. I’ll give you from PIE’s perspective. We’re actually getting out of making equity investments in companies, because we’re not terribly good investors. And so, if you would ask me today, should museums risk their capital, I would probably say, no. I think you’ve got other resources at your disposal, then maybe you’ve got a valuable partner, I think you have [fundings] that make you a valuable partner. You’re not going to be a good investor, like, and that’s part of what we’ve learned, is we don’t have a huge fund, we can only provide a very small amount of money to each of our companies. And, when we invested in it, there was nothing protecting us from losing that [unintelligible 00:38:40] investment, as they continued to take on some more venture capital.
Brendon: So, this is an excellent question. I was asked by a tech firm, the number one blogging source for tech news, and VC news, to write a piece about some of the innovation takin place in the museum sector. And, in writing that piece, I did a lot of [nice weekend] research, to find, well, have museums or major foundations made investments in risky early stage companies. And, if you’re interested, you can easily find what your museum endowment is being invested in. And, a lot of museum endowment, I think at one point the Getty had 25% of their several billion dollar endowment invested in venture capital funds.
I found some examples of museums making investments directly in a company which is high risk, outside of a pop up. But, your museum’s endowment probably holds oil refineries, forestry, real estate, fixed income, all sorts of crazy financial instruments. And so, to say, we have $100 million, can we put aside $50,000 a year to seed or accelerate growth of companies that can help us, in lieu of spending $50 – 100,000, or $150,000 to $200, 000 wasting money doing it in-house, becomes an interesting dynamic, and decision to be made.
So, I think that, what’s being done with the new museum, with funding from the [Knight Foundation], they will have $10,000 cheques, to [unintelligible 00:40:15] invest in, and I’m not sure if it’s an investment for equity or certainly a grant, to seed innovation that can help small to mid-sized organisations access technology, in an easier and more affordable way. I think there’s an opportunity to be had there, but it’s so early. [Unintelligible 00:40:33].
Rick: Right. And, I think that thing granting, absolutely [appeals, we’re involved in] granting, [unintelligible 00:40:41] stuff, like, you’re not venture capitalists, don’t do that. And, when you put a very small amount of money into a company, if you have no desire to put [in follow] on capital, you’re putting those founders in a very tense situation. When they go to raise additional capital, and the investors are, like, why didn’t your first investor put more money into your seed, do they not trust you anymore. Like, it’s fraught with peril from the equity perspective. I think granting is really interesting, or, you know, [unintelligible 00:41:17] on a different kind of return, like, are there other ways that that capital can translate into benefits for the museum, without being an equity thing. Because, the other thing with equity is, it’s not going to pay off or ten or 15 years.
Brendon: The only funny example, and I jotted this down, because I figured this question would come up, is a high school. So, this is a private school, a private, non-profit, educational organisation in California. For any stroke of luck they made a $15,000 investment, they don’t usually invest, high schools don’t invest, I don’t know why this happened. They invested in a company called Snapchat, and that $15,000 is now worth $24 million.
Brendon: Do we have time for more questions? Oh, we do, okay, great. A great question, Ben, and anonymous, and Ian. Anonymous, start-ups are linked with [unintelligible 00:42:23] what are the demographics, [unintelligible 00:42:24], how [are they friends with the museums]? I love this question, and I have some tangible takeaways for it. In Boston, two or three years running there’s a thing called Tech Night Out At The Museum, there’s an organisation called Technology [Under Rating] The Greater Good, which is the non-profit arm of the tech sector, to get involved with local community, and different institutions in a more philanthropic way.
They posted a Tech Night Out At The Museum, because they realised that there’s these silos, all these museums are the underpinnings of culture for human race. And they’re also, in Boston, what make us such a great study, they’re a huge part of that pillar in the Athens of America, as we once were called. Anyways, at the Tech Night Out At The Museum, you’re attracting people from the tech set here, you know, 18, 35, lots of disposable income, through your museum. And, they found that 80% of the people that went to the Isobel [unintelligible 00:43:19] Museum for the first Tech Night Out At The Museum, and then the ICA, it was their first time at the museum, and they’re talking about the innovators, people with two, three, four times the medium income, coming in, and wanting to get involved in some way, shape, or form.
So, there’s a huge opportunity for museums to cultivate this audience, in a strategic plan for organisations like the Museum of Finance Boston, for their 2020 plan. They said, we want to get more engaged with our creative industries and our innovation industries, these are ways you can do that. And a lot of museums aren’t yet doing that. So, there’s, you know, a bit opportunity on the table for anyone who wants it.
Rick: Well, and I think, you know, you touch on Boston, I can speak from the Portland perspective. I think the pervading concept beyond the bigger [unintelligible 00:44:12] drives, is this is all, kind of, people who quite college, or 20 year olds that build a new start-up. The fact of the matter is, your start-up scene is generally what the demographic of your community is. So, Portland, which tends to be a town that attracts people after they’ve spent five to ten years in San Francisco, or after they’ve gotten their graduate degrees. You know, our community trends to mid-thirties, and again it’s primary white, primarily male, but it trends a little bit older than our neighbours in the south, and folks in Seattle.
And, in our accelerator, those trends are pretty consistent. So, yes, I think popular culture has this, kind of, it’s only a younger person’s game, but once you engage with the community, I think you start to discover that there are people of all mix and walks of life, and careers, that have decided to engage in start-ups.
Brendon: Examples of museums embracing entrepreneurs in residence? Guys, I love the Minneapolis Institute of Art, they’re doing such amazing things. [Unintelligible 00:45:22] the Director, is incredible, and the leadership team there is incredible. They are the first museum to invest, to my knowledge, in having an entrepreneurial residence programme, and they, as part of that, have attempted to create a space called hot house, if I remember correctly. I’ll tweet this information out, it’s the only one that I know of. Great question.
One little anecdote, and I think it aligns with a lot of this, is the story that [unintelligible 00:45:49] looking at cells under a microscope, at [unintelligible 00:45:54] Technical University, [unintelligible 00:45:56], is a cultural person, or an artist, working on these masterpieces. If you look at some of the paintings, Portrait of [the Del], and The Kiss, a lot of them [unintelligible 00:46:10] by what they saw under a microscope. So, you can, in some ways, think of the entrepreneur, or the incubator, the accelerator, the ecosystem, as a microscope, and think of the print as the museum, and the museum employee, or the museum director.
Do you want to take the next one?
Rick: Yes. Great question. I would say, it’s very similar to a piece of advice I give to most corporations. I think it’s especially challenging for museums, given your role is bringing folks to you on a regular basis, or bringing them onto your campus, or in your building. The one piece of advice I would say for established organisations is, get outside, go and meet your community where your community is. Don’t expect them to come to you, because in all likelihood they will not, you have to go out and find them. And, I realise that’s a challenge, depending on the way you’re structured, and where your innovations are, but I promise you, if you get out and into the community, they will eventually come back and be part of your organisation, but you have to go and meet them first. [Unintelligible 00:47:28].
Brendon: Yes, that’s it. Amy, that’s an excellent question. I mean, there’s no doubt that tech, and the growth of the tech sector, is perpetuated in income inequality, housing inequality. You go to San Francisco, wow. Austin are facing housing inequality, and a number of other things. Portland … And, really, when you have any city with a sector that’s creating high gain jobs, rapid growth, IPOs, breeding wealth across a number of people. Mafias [unintelligible 00:47:57] mafia, [Facebook] mafia, people who have millions at their disposal.
You know, it is a really interesting question, does it continue that idea that institutions are [our lead]? I can’t, off the top of my head, think of an institution that has broken down that barrier. If you look at [unintelligible 00:48:17] composition, and I think [Unintelligible 00:48:20], the Mayor of New York, is attacking the institutions of New York for being predominantly white and male, they are influential business people in your community. And so, I think there is, kind of, a call to action right now, of building up community, including community activists, again, other communities within your great community, that hopefully have a more diverse board.
I can’t think of any examples that I know of, because this is something that’s a hot topic right now. But, having at least one tech entrepreneur, or tech founder on the board, I’m not sure if it will continue to perpetuate this elitist idea. If anything, a lot of the tech entrepreneurs and founders that we see, they are some of the most casual, anti-[unintelligible 00:49:12] people that I’ve encountered, that one of the reasons they don’t go to museums, is that it represents old ideas, and they don’t feel welcome. They, kind of, are all about inventing, and new, and new ways, and so there’s, kind of, this, again, an opportunity to have conversations about this, and to correct some of those things. But, I think it’s tied to a much larger situation, okay, get another billionaire on our board, or get another this on our board, rather than a community activist whose [unintelligible 00:49:43] healthier, more inclusive, more accessible. I think there’s a lot to be done.
Rick: Yes, I totally agree with that. We’ve got a challenge on that any kind of civic engagement, like, specifically with a lot of tech [unintelligible 00:50:00] it’s just not even on their mind to engage in politics, or cultural assets, or [unintelligible 00:50:08].
Brendon: It’s funny when it happens. [Unintelligible 00:50:13] there’s a new Governor, or Mayor, or someone running for city council, and they try to pull together tech entrepreneurs, [unintelligible 00:50:23], and so on, like, to be a part of the conversation. And, it’s the most frustrating butting of heads between, well, you’re telling me this, but you’re not going to do it, and we operate in a fast moving, agile, get it done way, and you just give us lip service. So, it’s a really difficult challenge to overcome, civically, or from an organisation perspective. But, it’s a really great question, and I hope it’s explored more and more at these conferences.
Rick: Absolutely. And, I think even just having that intent [unintelligible 00:50:52], like, even that can help.
Brendon: I think we’ve answered all of the questions. Thank you guys, so much for your attention and for your interest in this topic. And, if you have any questions or ideas, I would love to hear your reactions, and what your thoughts are at your museum, or in your community. There are opportunities to help you, you know, we’re open books, open source anything that you’ve done and genuinely are super passionate about helping, you know, museums and non-profits succeed, and if part of that is tapping into the tech sector, or the community, or leveraging things that have been borne out of tech culture, we’re happy to do that.
Rick: Yes. And, as Brendon says, like, anything we can do to be helpful. We’re not fooling ourselves into thinking we’ve figured out how to do this correctly, we’re always interested in ways other people are applying our processes, or exploring opportunities with their communities. So, it’s just as beneficial to us to be involved in this conversation, as hopefully it is for us to be helping you, so please let us know. Thank you.
Brendon: Thank you. Thank you.
Brendan Ciecko and Rick Turoczy spoke about startups & accelerators in museums at MuseumNext Portland 2017.