Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

Can You Teach Entrepreneurship to Creatives?

London, UK
Insights from Creative LIAisons’ InnerVation Lab show a bright, entrepreneurial future for advertising

The ad agency model is in flux and these days teams are turning their hands to designing products and services for clients and developing IP for themselves as well as creating those things that we might consider traditional advertising. That means that ambitious young creatives should be able to think as entrepreneurially as they do creatively.

But what, when you come down to it, is ‘entrepreneurial thinking’, and can it be taught?

That was the topic of a highly unusual workshop at the London International Awards Creative LIAisons event in Las Vegas on Thursday. With the help of Professor Saras D. Sarasvathy of the University of Virginia and Shark Tank stars Daymond John and Kevin Harrington, 85 lucky young creatives got the chance to get to know their inner entrepreneur.

Champ Nichols, who heads up the speaking division at Daymond John’s The Shark Group, introduced the morning by explaining the thinking behind serving up this innovative workshop to adland creatives.  “I know the traditional gravy trains have stopped. The mark ups have stopped. You guys are being asked to do more with more transparency in less time,” he said. “We’re not here to tell you the sky is falling. I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of those speeches. You’re here to hear from people who have learned to sail the seas of uncertainty.”

In the morning, Professor Sarasvathy gave an interactive lecture on what she describes as the science of entrepreneurship. Over the past two decades she has interviewed many of the world’s ‘expert’ entrepreneurs to distil the decision making processes into identifiable, tangible steps. Where most of us fall down is that we try and predict the future – build step-by-step business plans, try to anticipate and overthink the unknown. Successful entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are more concerned with making stuff happen, co-create the future so that they don’t need to predict it. This, Professor Sarasvathy, explained was ‘Effectual Logic’.

This idea of ‘Effectuation’ was further broken down into five principles: assessing what resources you already have, figuring out how much you can afford to lose on a venture, building a network of partners and collaborators, adapting to surprises and then ‘piloting’ that project forward. These principles are the result of years of extensive research and was, judging by the frantic scribbling in the back row, as enlightening for the LIA judges who snuck in the back of the room as it was for the young creatives.

Afterwards, the creatives were divided into teams of five to come up with ideas to pitch to the two Shark Tank sharks – using the principles outlined. The ideas were fleshed out and then put to vote – five were selected for further work.

That afternoon Daymond John – founder and CEO of FUBU and serial entrepreneur – and infomercial entrepreneur Kevin Harrington listened to pitches from the winning groups and gave them a grilling. By giving them a gentler version of the Shark Tank treatment, Daymond and Kevin guided the creatives through a business assessment of their crazy but clever ideas. What sort of revenue streams could their ideas generate? What kind of partnerships should they seek out to start the process of making their ideas realities? How should they protect their brand names and ideas? Might there be unexpected markets for their ideas?

For creatives who were more used to selling communications ideas to clients, it was an unprecedented opportunity to learn how they could turn their creative powers to enterprises that could survive and thrive in the real world.

From John Power (the poop-powered public rest room) to Amplify (the sound-activated charger) and Bindr (the book-centric matchmaking app), the ideas were varied and kept the two mega-entrepreneurs engaged (and in some instances doubled over in laughter). For all the business smarts Daymond, Kevin and the Professor imparted to the audience, the young creatives gave just as much back in terms of their lateral thinking.

After the energising day’s activities ended, we spoke to several young creatives who were energised not only at the prospect of bringing this experience back to their agencies but also initiating more of their own projects. “I feel excited… but I feel like I’ve got so much to do when I get home!” laughed BMB London’s Harry Bootham.

You and us both Harry.

To learn more about Professor Sarasvathy’s research and learning on entrepreneurship, head to

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