To make a global impact, begin with a creative, local startup. 

That’s how co-authors Alice Loy and Tom Aageson begin the roadmap in their book “Creative Economy Entrepreneurs: From Startup to Success,” which recounts the lessons Loy and Aageson have learned and imparted through their New Mexico-based accelerator Creative Startups. 

The creative economy contributes more than $700 billion annually to the U.S economy – but investors, accelerators and states looking to dangle tax incentives to new companies aren’t seeking creative entrepreneurs at the same pace as tech startups or multi-million dollar companies, Loy and Aageson argue in their book, published in September.

It’s not just for majority urban populations, either. 

“I’ve only been to Iowa, I think, twice, so by no stretch am I an expert in Iowa life,” Loy prefaces on the phone with the Business Record. 

Yet, the startup case studies Loy and Aageson feature in their book sprouted from populations including Santa Fe, New Mexico (population: 83,000); Óbidos, Portugal (11,000); and Arnaudville, Louisiana (1,000) – smaller than the Des Moines metro, and comparable to a few Iowa communities.

In Creative Startups’ home state of New Mexico, the state’s rural areas had the highest poverty rate of rural areas in the nation at 21.9 percent, according to Census Bureau data from 2011 to 2015. 

“One of the challenges that Tom and I saw all along throughout building our organization was the flight of resources – human resources, young people, talent, access to broadband is often negligible,” Loy said. “It’s this continual sort of cycle of decline for our rural communities, and yet they were attracting, in some cases, some very interesting people who wanted to have a different lifestyle.” 

“If you can deploy your creative intellectual property and wherewithal [in small communities], and it could be products or services using the internet, you can start to build a business that does pretty well,” Loy said. 

Loy and Aageson’s book highlights the benefits nations receive with a strong creative economy – U.S. creative exports reached $142 billion in 2012 according to their research, surpassing agricultural exports – but they also build a roadmap for investors and accelerators seeking to support creative entrepreneurs locally and internationally. 

The two started working on their book in 2015, eight years after founding Creative Startups. Since then, Creative Startups launched online course work and mentorship opportunities, and has licensed the 8-week accelerator course and brand to Baltimore, Maryland; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Kuwait; and Malaysia. Loy estimates the program has about 50 startups going through the accelerator process each year. 

Their book research evolved beyond the manuscript; in the fall, Creative Startups launched a five-day seminar called Ecosystem Builders aimed at community organizers or public employees seeking to build their own local creative economy.

“The first two days are for ecosystem builders, and it focuses on understanding what an entrepreneurship ecosystem is, what it might look like in your community and how you can start to cultivate it for creative entrepreneurs,” Loy said. “The other three days are for people who … are educators. These are people who would become certified to teach our pre-accelerator program, and in this way, we can start reaching a lot more communities.” 

“We just had more demand than we could meet.” 

Out of all the practical tools Loy and Aageson offer in their book, Loy advises community leaders to be willing to work with entrepreneurs dabbling outside of the status quo system. 

“The most important piece I think, especially for city planners and city leadership to wrap their head around, is the entrepreneurs who are going to build things probably don’t act, look and behave like you do,” Loy said. “I think that’s hard for people to get comfortable with … But if you equip them and work with them, they often can build things that nobody else would have the tenacity or the vision to build.” 

Loy and Aageson are scheduling locations on their 2019 book tour online, and their book is available for purchase on Amazon.

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