Many college classes follow the same format, which centers on lectures, papers and tests. Oftentimes, the knowledge gained may never be applied outside of the class, and monotony kicks in.
However, not every class follows these standards. ECON 327, a business venture workshop focused on the arts and co-taught by associate professor at the UNC School of Law Deborah Gerhardt and Entrepreneur in Residence Ken Weiss, is a unique course that gives students creative freedom while simultaneously enhancing their business skills.
Weiss said students are asked to create business plans for specific arts related ventures, and then develop and finish those business plans by the end of the semester.
Each student pitches a business venture, but only a few are selected to be projects for the class. Students are then divided into groups to work on the selected ventures.
One student who had his business plan chosen is Connor Nielsen, a sophomore economics and dramatic arts major from Charlotte.
He said his proposed venture aims at bringing young people to theater.
“We’re doing a consulting group that will partner with theaters and arts organizations to revamp and modernize the subscription sales model for regional theaters,” Nielsen said. “Ultimately, the goal is to bring in more young audiences into the theater, but doing so in a mutually beneficial, profitable way.”
Nielsen has met with Gerhardt to discuss how his venture can meet the academic requirements of the class and also be applied beyond the classroom.
The latter is a key component of the course.
Weiss said students often work on their projects after the class is over — one graduate created his own record company modeled after what they did in the class.
Caique Vidal, a junior music major from Brazil, did not have his project chosen, but said he still found the knowledge gained from class to be extremely useful in his present and future pursuits.
Vidal is the front man for his band Batuque, which performs Afro-Brazilian music.
“I enrolled in this class mainly to understand better how can I get the next step, and finally reach to a level that I can survive with my music,” Vidal said. “And so far the class has provided some very, very important skills.”
He said the tools Weiss has taught him have helped him better learn how to present himself and his ideas to the people who matter most, whether it be fans, record labels, or investors.
“The teacher doesn’t push me as a student to understand the concepts, he pushes me as a business person looking to make contact and connections,” Vidal said.
While the students enjoy this class for the knowledge and experience they gain, Weiss does for slightly different reasons.
“I enjoy teaching the class immensely because the students are there for specific reasons,” Weiss said. “It’s fun to share what I’ve learned with the students — watch them grow, learn and develop.”
ECON 327 may not be the most popular class and certainly is not for everyone, but its ability to provide practical experience while maintaining creative freedom is unique.
“Not only is the class focused on developing a business venture but it has an artistic component all the way through,” Nielsen said.
“What differentiates artistic business ventures from any other business ventures is that the goal is not only to turn a profit but to make a statement.”