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August 11, 2009

Q&A on Streetcanvas, an HBS MBA student venture

Business plan contests and the businesses that emerge out of MBA programs offer students an excellent opportunity to immediately apply what they learn. One such new venture is Streetcanvas , which was started by three HBS students. Streetcanvas was brought to my attention by Akiko Tateishi (Chicago Booth MBA Class of 2011) who is getting an opportunity to intern at this new venture business even before she begins her MBA program. In the interview below, I have asked her about her experience.

Adam: Tell me about Streetcanvas?

Akiko: Streetcanvas (http://www.streetcanvas.com/) is a venture business launched by three HBS students, who were semi-finalists in the school’s business contest and are being sponsored by the school. The business is to first create an online community (the website is in both English and Japanese) for Japanese artists and designers who have an interest to display and share their artwork and gain attention. Streetcanvas is a platform for these artists to gain international recognition, and will provide opportunities for artists to have their artworks displayed in overseas art galleries and select shops, whom we collaborate with and who are interested in Japanese art and design. This online community network will host ongoing T-shirt design contests and the winner’s design will be printed on an American Apparel T-shirt and sold within Japan and abroad. Streetcanvas’ business model is similar to that of Threadless in the US.

Adam: Tell me about your internship.

Akiko: I think it’s a great experience to understand the challenges in setting up a venture and understanding the core of how a business is run. At Streetcanvas, our main activities are split up into Marketing, Operations, and Technology. Interns are allocated to one group, although there is no limit as to how much an intern can be involved. Through research and cooperation with the cofounders, one can learn a great deal not only about the business model, but also experience what it takes to meet business targets in each division.

Adam: What is the expected outcome?

Akiko: The core platform is already built, meaning the website has been launched and the first competition is complete. What remain, are the marketing efforts to recruit as many artists as possible so that there is enough member to keep the competition running. Our CEO, Rie Yano and the interns have been reaching out to artists and art students as well as teaming up with large corporations. Rie, herself, has been appearing in media interviews, including Venture View and Metropolis has introduced us as the “site of the week” (Issue #802). The expected outcome is that we reach our target membership of 1,000 members by the end of August and the competitions are self-sustainable with artwork submissions, evaluations, and voting within the Japanese art community which Streetcanvas has created.

Adam: How many students are involved?

Akiko: At this moment, a combination of 18 university undergraduate students and working professionals who dedicate their free time to the project, are involved, with two thirds of the interns belonging to the former group. (I am the only MBA Class of 2011 student)

Adam: Why are you participating in Streetcanvas?

Akiko: Throughout my career, I have only worked in large corporations and have never worked in a small entity or firm. Although start-ups are popping up in Japan, it’s still not as widespread a phenomenon as it is abroad. I feel it’s still not encouraged in our society (because it equates to risk taking) and people are not as open to such ideas. When I see these HBS students working, I see great potential in their ideas and hopes. They have taught me that good ideas are worth investing in and turning into a business. I think the risks associated with start-ups do not work well in the Japanese society, but I think these are exactly the kind of energy we need to create in Japan to bring innovation.
I want to thank Akiko for taking the time to answer my questions. By the way, Streetcanvas is fun and anyone can join. The website is very easy to use and I encourage you to try it out.

-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

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