Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Have you heard about the UAlberta Emerging Leaders Program?

Today's guest blog comes from Steve Beck, U of A student and past participant in the Emerging Leaders Program, a joint initiative of the University of Alberta's Students' Union, Office of the Dean of Students and Residence Services.

Emerging Leaders Program logoHello! My name is Steve Beck and I’m a full-time education student at the University of Alberta. I'm also a private chef. In September 2012, I joined the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) because leadership is important to me and the opportunity to learn more about and discuss the whole concept of leadership with other students seemed like a great environment to be in. What I found most interesting was working with students from many leadership positions, students who frequently used the activities we practiced in the program within their own organizations. This showed me that, as a leader, anything is possible and although some people might seem excellent by nature, it is through practice and taking that fearful step into the unknown that one becomes excellent.

As the owner of a private chef and catering business and a full-time education student, the ELP gave me both the courage and confidence to take my business to the next level. By using the activities we learned in each session, I was able to take a step back to reshape the culture of my organization and maximize effectiveness of my time, which has enabled my business to grow - intelligently structured - in a positive direction. I now cater bi-weekly and hire staff for events.

I enjoyed how the ELP facilitators structured our sessions with successful entrepreneurs, community leaders and other guest speakers. This gave us the chance to develop a network and connect with leaders who are making a difference in our community. Currently, I keep in touch with a few of my fellow ELP participants, and I wouldn't hesitate to ask them or the ELP staff for help on a project as they were very accommodating and easy to talk to.

If I had more time, I would like to be a part of some of my partners’ organizations. They've motivated me to want to get involved by their commitment to their organizations and their strong foundation in leadership principles. For me, the ELP gave me confidence and knowledge in career development, self-reflection and networking, and I'm positive I’ll continue to search for further leadership training opportunities to continue along this path.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Exploring careers in arts and culture

Yesterday was a great day. I spent most of it on a career crawl with 15 U of A students, three alumni and four colleagues from CAPS and the Faculty of Arts. We visited CKUA, the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA) and the Frances Winspear Centre for Music & Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. We heard from a number of staff from each of these three non-profit arts organizations about how they got to where they are today. Their stories were truly inspirational.

I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about CAPS’ approach to career development, which emphasizes action and reflection and recognizes the role happenstance plays in most people’s careers. We encourage students to act on their curiosities and the opportunities presented to them even when they are unsure of the outcome. Such action can, and often does, lead to learning about - even creating - new opportunities they wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise. The career stories we heard yesterday once more affirmed my conviction that this is the right approach.

For example, we heard from Mandy who works in sponsorship at CKUA. After working in retail for a number of years, Mandy jumped at the opportunity to take management training courses offered by her employer. She was promoted but found she didn’t really like her new position. One day she was listening to CKUA online at work and heard they were hiring. She applied and got the job even though she had limited related experience. Mandy stressed the importance of showing your personality in the interview because finding people who will fit well within the workplace is a priority for many employers.

We also heard from Laura who is the Exhibitions Manager at the AGA. After completing a degree in Art History, she approached a gallery in her home province offering to do any kind of work just to get her foot in the door. They hired her on a short-term contract during which she learned how to use the gallery’s collections database. When the only other person who knew how to use the database left, she was hired into her position. A piece of advice Laura had for students pursuing a career in arts and culture is to volunteer. Volunteering not only provides valuable experience and connections; it also shows commitment and that you value the arts. Many of the people we met at all three places we visited started off as volunteers in the organizations they now work for or with similar organizations.

At the Winspear, we heard from Phil who is the Communications Manager. He developed an interest in technology in high school and creating websites became somewhat of a hobby. While completing his Bachelor of Music at the U of A, he worked part-time at the Winspear’s box office. He took the initiative to help develop their on-line ticket sales and the rest, as they say, is history. Phil’s career journey demonstrates how a person’s education, work experience, interests and hobbies can influence their career.

We took a break mid-day to have lunch, which was generously provided by the Winspear, and to listen to Edmonton author Wayne Arthurson relate his career journey. He became a fiction writer in Grade 8 when his social studies teacher said he could submit a short story rather than an essay for an assignment. Wayne never looked back and even though getting three novels and a number of short stories published since then has been full of ups and downs, his passion for writing really shone through. He stressed perseverance. While he hasn’t become a ‘man of letters’ he once thought he would become, he has been able to make a career as a writer by combining fiction writing with what he called ‘writing books for hire’ and freelance writing. He likened this to a carpenter ‘banging nails.’ Sometimes a carpenter has the opportunity to create something they are really passionate about and sometimes they just have to bang nails. Or, as one of my favourite artists Billy Bragg says about life – sometime you gotta learn to take the crunchy with the smooth.

Monday, 4 November 2013

What is crowdfunding?

This week’s guest post is from Christine Gertz, Library and Information Specialist at CAPS.

For the past few years, Kickstarter has happily taken Canadians’ money to fund projects but not to post projects in need of funding. That changed this summer. Canadian creators can now post projects looking for funds on Kickstarter.

Kickstarter’s announcement overshadows the fact that crowdfunding has been a fundraising tactic creators have used for a long time. For example, last year I took part in a silent auction to raise money for a friend who wanted to participate in a home building project in Mexico. She needed to raise money for airfare, lodgings and project fees. Some of the attendees, like myself, brought baked goods. The organizers also sought donations from professional bakeries in the city. Attendees bidded on the items and the highest bid took the item home. During the bidding, we watched a video about the project and a presentation about what she planned to do with the funds she raised. Most of the bids were small, about $5 to $60, but the amount raised was enough to pay for my friend’s trip and expenses as well as promotions and facility fees for the silent action.

My friend could have used credit to finance her part of the project. However, that would have meant going into debt. Avoiding exorbitant debt is one of the purposes of crowdfunding and microfunding. Microfunding makes crowdfunding possible. When you fundraise you are trying to avoid debt, unlike microfinance which involves a loan with interest.

If you look at traditional funding for entrepreneurs, traditional lenders, such as banks, usually offer loans that are greater than $10,000. But some small projects do not need that much. Instead, they might only need $2,000 – what they need is a microloan.

In the early days of microfinance, lenders such as Grameen Bank offered microloans to people who would not have normally qualified for a loan. The microloans industry has since developed on the Internet. Through crowdfunding platforms lenders can see the person they are providing funds to and can make contributions they can afford. If it all works out, the entrepreneur repays that money and lenders can use it to loan to another person on the platform.

For example, an entrepreneur needs $1,000 but no one in her network has that much money to lend nor is a traditional lender willing to supply such as small amount. Using a crowdfunding service, she can solicit micropayments, usually starting at $25, until she has raised all of or more than the money that she needs or until the term of her campaign ends. She may receive 40 loans of $25 or two loans of $1,000, but at the end of the successful campaign she will have received at least the amount she needs. She can use that money to meet her needs, but she does have to apply anything above the amount to the repayment of the $1,000, with interest. An example of crowdfunded microfinance is Calvin of Crystal Clear Window Washing who used Kiva to pay for a company car.

How it works

This is what the Internet crowdfunding process usually looks like:

· A creator plans a project and writes a proposal.
· The creator prepares a pitch video. Depending on who you talk to, a well done pitch video is more likely to get you money than actually having delivered a successful product in the past. (Note: For the next few days we will be posting pitches from a variety of crowdfunding sites on the CAPS Facebook page. You can post in the comments whether you felt the campaign succeeded based on the video. We will post the answer on the following day.)
· The creator decides what perks they will offer to solicit a larger donation.
· The creator submits the project to the platform.
· The staff at the platform review the project to make sure it meets their guidelines.
· The project is accepted and runs for a specific term, usually between 30 and 120 days depending on the platform.
· The creator promotes the project. Most platforms offer online tools as well as their own reputation to boost the project.
· The campaign either succeeds or fails.
· If the campaign succeeds, the creator receives the funds, less the money the platform and the payment processors have charged for their services.
· The creator uses the funds for their project and to fulfill the promise of the perks the funders selected.
· The funders get their perks.
Why crowdfund?

Why would anyone turn to crowdfunding if they could just get a loan, use their credit card or hold a fundraiser? Most people who use crowdfunding opt to do so for the following reasons:

· Their network is tapped out or they need more money than their network can supply.
· They want to avoid debt.
· Their traditional fund sources may not be interested or available to partake.
· The project does not qualify for a traditional bank loan.

Crowdfunding does not mean free - nor free from effort

Some analysts have said that about two thirds of all crowdfunding projects fail to meet their funding goal and many of those failures make less than $100. There are other issues you need to consider before applying to a crowdfunding platform:

· You may need only a small amount of money. In this case, you might use a crowdfunding event, like Meaet, to raise money for your project.
· Will your project only proceed if you raise all of the money necessary? On Kickstarter, projects receive fixed funding. This means all of the stated goal money must be raised for the project to get funded. On Indiegogo, creators can opt for a flexible funding campaign. This means that if you need $5,000 for the project to be completely funded, but could still go ahead with only $3,500, you opt for flexible funding. Some creators like this option, since they can turn to other sources to cover the shortfall, but some people have criticized this option since it means creators may need to use credit to complete their project.
· Are you eligible? Some crowdfunding may only be available to particular projects or creators, such as Fundweaver, which is for Inuit, Metis and First Nations projects.
· You need to apply. You need to complete the application process, as well as film a pitch video that will attract funders, so you can pass through screening and selection. Your campaign could fail even before posting if you don’t take the application seriously or give yourself enough time to complete it.
· The platform and payment processor will charge fees for their services. Crowdfunding is not free for creators, since most platforms will charge a percentage of the money raised, usually between 3% and 5% depending on the campaign type or platform. The payment processing service will also charge a fee for handling the campaign contributions. How will you pay for these fees, as well as meet the needs of your budget?

You need to consider some of these issues before creating your campaign.
Learn More

Prior to beginning any crowdfunding campaign, you might want to learn about how to crowdfund. Kickstarter offers a Kickstarter school, Indiegogo has a learning centre, and you may be able to find local creators who used a crowdfunding platform to raise money for their projects. Crowdsourcing.org has specific channels for crowdfunding and provides a clearinghouse on crowdfunding news and research. I would also recommend looking for local training and get-togethers offered by Startup Edmonton, Business Link or Edmonton’s Next Gen, since these organizations are on the forefront of entrepreneur education.

As part of StartUp U, CAPS is holding a Crowdfunding Hangout on Tuesday, November 5 at 10:00 a.m. where you can learn more about crowdfunding from experienced creators, as well as from industry experts. A recording of the hangout will be posted on the CAPS website later in the week.