Thursday, March 6, 2014

An Intel-Dance(!) Joint Operation? You Betcha... (Entrepreneurial Intelligence)

No kidding.

This is a real thing.

When Mercyhurst Dance professor, Noelle Partusch, came to me in the fall to ask how the intel studies program could help her with a trip she and her dancers wanted to take to Jerusalem, little did I imagine that I would find myself smack in the middle of the Journey to Jerusalem Kickstarter Campaign.

Kickstarter is a highly popular (over a billion dollars collected so far...) crowdfunding platform.  People fund projects from art to books to games to, well, dance.  In fact, dance is one of the most statistically successful of the various Kickstarter categories with over a 70% success rate.

I have run two successful campaigns (For my games, Widget and CVTV) and so it made sense for Noelle to ask me for advice.  As I began to think about it, however, I saw a real opportunity to explore - in a more tangible way - some of my ideas about entrepreneurial intelligence and to give students a unique learning experience in the process.

Pretty soon I had a team of students working the details of the campaign.  If intelligence is, in some way, about the things that are critical to your success or failure but are fundamentally outside your control, then Kickstarter success or failure is all about intelligence.

I started with Emily Francis, one of our top undergrad intel students.  Emily is known for her intelligence, drive, and ability to work with others.  Kickstarter, with its focus on short (30 days is recommended) win-or-lose (you either meet your goal or you get nothing) campaigns, is a perfect place to start to hone leadership skills.  

I let Emily pick her own team and she quickly hired a copywriter, Alison Hosko, to help craft the marketing message and a social media manager, Amanda Marley, to help build an audience and get the word out.  We went to the Graphics Design Club here to get the logo.  Noelle, the other professors in the department, and the dancers themselves provided us with all the content and approved all the messages.  After building up an audience on Facebook, we launched on 18 Feb.

We are now a day past the midway point and, with the help of nearly 50 backers, over 100% funded.   Kickstarter allows projects to become overfunded, so we are going to try to push the dollar amount as high as we can knowing that every dollar the project makes goes to help the dancers.

Assuming we stay above our goal (dirty little secret:  In crowdfunding, people can cancel their pledges, too...), this is a big win for:
  • ...the dancers.  Every dollar will go to defray their costs.  
  • ...the backers - the people who pledged the dollars.  They not only get the excitement of helping these dancers achieve their dream, they also get tangible rewards, such as an exclusive video of the dancer's performance while in Jerusalem.
  • ...for the University (a double win to be exact).  
    • We have an excellent dance department here at Mercyhurst.  Efforts like this spread the word about that department and about the University in general in ways that traditional marketing can't match (for example, take a look at this article or this one...).  
    • In addition, our current University marketing campaign is built around the slogan, "Experienced Guaranteed." We do a lot of hands on, project based work in our classes here at Mercyhurst (particularly in the intel department).  This project makes that work interdisciplinary.
  • ...for the students, who not only get the experience of working on a project like this but also get a (modest) stipend for doing so.
  • ...for the community of Erie and rust-belt towns generally.  The rust belt has been the hub of heavy manufacturing in the US for so long that many places lack a body of what I call "pre-entrepreneurs" - people who could be entrepreneurs but haven't thought about it yet.  The environment for entrepreneurs is pretty good but there simply aren't enough people taking advantage of it because they don't think they can.  Project based crowdfunding sites, like Kickstarter, help overcome what is, in reality, a psychological problem.  
  • ...for entrepreneurial intelligence as a field of study.  Crowdfunding activities like this one provide a perfect laboratory for determining what entrepreneurs need from intelligence.  I have already learned a bunch of lessons and expect to learn more.
We have received good press so far (here and here) and almost 350 "likes" on Facebook.  It has all helped but if you like dance or are just interested in seeing how this project proceeds, drop the project a couple of bucks or share it with someone who will!

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