I have some history with Alan Webber, although Alan Webber has no history with me. In the mid-1990s, I was a young business journalist working at a trade magazine in Boulder. I had a plan, and Alan Webber was part of it. I wanted to work at Fast Company, the business magazine Webber founded with partner Bill Taylor that became the fast growing business magazine launch in history.
I got an interview with Webber and Taylor (I don't remember how). I wanted that job more than I’ve wanted any job in my life—I wanted to write about cool startups, and go to work every day in that exposed brick loft building in Boston’s North End.
I did not get a second interview.
But I did get to talk to Webber a second time, 20 years later. Now living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Webber sold the magazine in 2000, and now uses his knowledge, both from writing about growth businesses and running one himself, as a board member and mentor for Creative Startups. Webber has focused on developing the state’s creative economy (even running for Governor), believing that New Mexico must tap into its formidable arts culture to aid economic growth.
“There were a lot of original ideas such as developing a cultural corridor connecting Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos. … We kept struggling to find a good business model, because it is a huge part of New Mexico and the global economy.”
For Webber, focusing on creative startup companies seemed a quicker path to growth. There are a lot of incubators and accelerators for coding and app development and technology aimed at nurturing companies that will create more well paid technology jobs. But there were none that dealt with the specific needs of creatives—those without an MBA or finance or marketing backgrounds.
“[The accelerator] was the first of its kind in the world, and it recognized an important need that a particularly large and often overlooked group of people, to learn how to turn their creative skills and turn into an entrepreneurial and growing concern,” he says.
Webber is intimate with the challenges of startups. “Being an entrepreneur is a really isolated and lonely experience. You spend a lot of time talking to yourself. That’s not always the most productive way to go.” And therein lies one of the most valuable elements of the Creative Startups accelerator: The very effort it takes to participate ensures a caliber of individual ready to do the hard work to succeed.
“[Creative Startups’ mentors] operate as constructive critics. They ask hard questions that the entrepreneur hasn't grappled with enough. They push entrepreneurs to go further and deeper and work harder than they have. … People in an incubator program are not looking to be patted on the head and given positive reviews.”
Accelerator participants recognize that they are there to exchange ideas, even if that means confronting the brutal facts. “They help each other in a very tough-minded, pragmatic and optimistic ways. People are there because they believe in the act of entrepreneurship and innovation but it has to be pushed through with tough-minded pragmatism,” he says.
“These are not your typical bay area entrepreneurs. The opportunity and need is that these are people who are not candidates for an MBA... They are more attracted to the part of startup world where creativity and self-expression is the real coin of the realm. That’s fun and different and the engagement is much fresher, and the exposure to new ideas and new skills that has purity and clarity to it that is compelling. Nobody is jaded, they are there to learn to grow their idea and turn it into a growing concern.”
Fundamentally, Webber says, we tend not to give enough credit to the creative economy and the power it has to create jobs and growth in the future. “People are inherently creative. It’s what we do, whether or not we’re trying, whether or not we’re even aware of it. We create all the time, every day, in ways large and small.
When you become aware of how you are creative and what you are creating, you may turn that into an entrepreneurial opportunity—a creative industry. But even if you don’t, you are adding something new and fresh and unique to you when you capture your creativity in an act, a thing, a moment.
As much of life gets more and more commoditized, the creativity that each of us contributes in our lives will take on more significance, generate more meaning and make an increasingly big difference.”