Helping Artists & Creatives Start Businesses

Donna Douglass

Donna Douglass

How can a local organization help artists launch? ABI spoke with Donna Douglass from StARTup Incubator in Edinboro, Pennsylvania to see how they assist artists and other creative types start businesses.



ABI: What is StARTup Incubator’s concept?

DD:  For a monthly membership fee, we help artists, craftspeople and tinkerers, develop solid business and marketing plans. Because we are loosely affiliated with Edinboro University of Pennsylvania which has a great fine arts, crafts and applied media arts school, we are able to hire college interns to work with our members to develop lots of what startup businesses need.

For example, we have a great photo lab and a talented volunteer who helps us create digital portfolios for members. We also have several graduate assistants who help our members design their websites, create print material for use at trade shows, etc.


Startup incubator


ABI:  How did your organization get started?

DD:  The StARTup Incubator got started casually about eight years ago. It grew out of a salon a group of us called the SAM & ED project (Science, Arts, Manufacturing, Engineering and Design). Our region of northwest Pennsylvania hosts a lot of small manufacturing firms, especially molded plastics companies.

In addition, the Erie Art Museum and a group of local patent attorneys and art faculty created a contest  called InnovationErie, a product design contest. These regional efforts culminated in the creation of the nonprofit StARTup Incubator, Inc. Over the last few years we’ve worked with graphic designers, furniture makers, jewelry makers, industrial designers, photographers, and animators.

ABI: How does your mentoring program work? 

DD: Besides helping our member artists develop business and marketing plans, our board of directors serve as mentors and advisors based on member need. The board is comprised of  several successful artists in business (a graphic designer & a jewelry designer), a patent attorney, a gallery director, a tech company partner and several business consultants.

These volunteers meet with members to help them determine best practices in marketing for their particular kind of enterprise, legal aspects of what they do, trade show tips and more.

ABI:  What other assistance do you offer to the members of your group?

DD:  The StARTup Incubator hosts workshops, seminars, and webinars for members. Once a month we host a members get together so they can share challenges and success stories over a light dinner and drinks. The camaraderie that has developed out of these kinds of meetings has been very rewarding. Often two or three will end up working together on one or more aspects of their individual undertakings.

One member, a children’s book author, is animating her books online by working with a member animator and several interns from the university’s animation, illustration, and computer programming departments. She also has collaborated with a former member who is an industrial designer. Together they are creating and marketing a children’s science kit and book.

ABI: How do you feel this affects the community you live in?

DD: All grant funds the StARTup Incubator has received are predicated on the mission of supporting the economic development of the region by assisting local artists and others of the creative class start businesses. We know arts organizations such as the ballet and the philharmonic bring money to the region, but its important to support artists themselves as members of the economic development community as well.

Another exciting aspect of our organization is that we house an anchor tenant accounting company. Their owner has offered to provide basic bookkeeping for our members and helping them understand their finances. In essence we’ve created an environment that fosters the business success of artists in our area and helped develop a growing entrepreneurial  environment in a former rust belt community. Everybody wins!

StARTup SquareStARTup Incubator is partnering with The Arts Business Institute to present a “No More Starving Artists” workshop for artists on the business of art taking place October 10-11, 2014. Presentations will include Wholesaling, Marketing, Product Development, Licensing, Sales Strategies, Copyright Protection and more. Individual business consultations for artists are available at this event. LEARN MORE HERE




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