There are tech startups, who've gotten plenty of attention, financially and otherwise. There are biotech startups. There are cleantech/green startups.
And then there are companies like Bound Custom Journals, CityFabric, The Makery and Seam Happy that make items (and platforms for those items) that are both functional and beautiful, but find their business models a bit more of a hard sell to investors who are more familiar with startups built on MySQL than startups built on paper and fabric.
To help artisans get on the road to long-term viability, there is a new incubator called Kindred opening in downtown Raleigh. At 131 S. Wilmington St., which will take on a boutique-y look, artisans will receive one-on-one mentoring, monthly business workshops and have space to display and sell their wares.
The partners behind the nonprofit incubator are EntreDot, a business mentoring association, and Michelle Smith, founder of indieNC, a blog on NC designers and artists, and the Rock & Shop, an 8-year-old biannual music and shopping event. Michelle is a product designer herself, and recently created the window display for the new West Elm store in Durham.
Kindred's grand opening, with champagne and a costume party, is planned for Oct. 27. In the meantime, founders are still looking for help in the upfit of the building. They have also launched a Kickstarter campaign to help pay for modular shelving units and lighting. (Check it all out here.)
The growth of artisans in North Carolina is reaching critical mass, according to Michelle.
"It's kind of at the tipping point now. Because of the success of companies like Etsy, you have events like the Rock & Shop and you have designers who've been creating products for a long time," she said. "We're trying to bring the focus onto these types of companies."
More of Michelle's thoughts and info on Kindred after the jump:
Kindred will be able to have 30 artisans in the mentoring program and an additional 20-30 artists as consignors. Application process is already open and it is a juried process open to all North Carolina artisans. Shelf space, which comes with mentoring, starts at $50 a month and 30 percent commission. (The pricing sheet and brochure is here. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for application forms.)
When Michelle started the Rock & Shop back in 2004, she hosted it at the YWCA and had 30 vendors, not juried. Now, she says, she can host it across three venues in one day. She can have 100 vendors, and have applications for three times as many. For the next Rock & Shop, she plans on holding it in conjunction with the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham.
Through her experience as an artisan, scaling up her business when it got great press in magazines, then scaling down when she had her baby—she said she recognized the different business skills you need to have to maintain your craft.
"In general, a lot of these artisans make these products are very creative, very artistic types of people. There's that cliche of the starving artist. They're driven by their art and they see their business as an art form versus just pursuing a business for financial reasons. That's really what we're trying to address. We're trying to give them the tools they need."
They often get to a point where they don't necessarily have the role models of successful businesses that are much larger in scope that are doing the types of things they're doing. But that's starting to happen. Etsy is a great example. We want to help these artists realize that they can grow if they want to grow to that level.
One of the struggles we have is scaling up—A business can't grow if it is exclusively hand-made. A lot of these artisans, they're the only ones working on this product but they can't grow if they're only hand-making by themselves. The perception from artisans is that they need to keep it handmade, but we're trying to tell them they can grow into a cottage industry, and even partner with manufacturers."