Raymond Luk, founder of Montreal-based startup incubator Flow Ventures, recognized that many artists are unable to connect with potential buyers in the business world. At the same time, there are many businesses with drab office interiors relying on generic prints from big-box stores to make a statement.
The two worlds appear to speak different languages and they have different norms of behaviour. But on closer inspection, Mr. Luk saw a common thread of creativity that could serve as the basis for a connection. They just needed someone to bring them together.
There is a tremendous amount of research on social networks focused on how connections are made between people and organizations, and what impact these connections have on business outcomes. A key concept stemming from this research is “centrality,” where an individual acts as the connection between other parties. While the concept is inherently understood when applied to well-connected people, the type of individual you go to when you need an introduction, taking on this role at an industry level is often overlooked as a strategic opportunity.
Network theory suggests that bridging the gap between two sectors is a powerful central structural position. Identifying that position is an excellent method of market identification, and a potentially good space for a startup, if the connecting role is underserved. Mr. Luk found that the gap between art and business was wide open, so he dove in.
While they are two seemingly unrelated worlds, Mr. Luk saw a market opportunity and launched ArtAnywhere, a successful startup that gets art in front of business people.
He hired as CEO Julian Haber, an online marketing consultant and a professional photographer, and together they devised a low-risk solution where an organization could arrange for the installation of a free temporary gallery of original artwork in their office. Businesses are able to add inspiration to their staid workplaces and artists are provided with the chance to display their art in visible, well-trafficked locations without having to pay for exhibition space.
ArtAnywhere provides the platform to make the match, it helps select the artists, and it facilitates any sales of the artwork on a commission basis.
Now that Mr. Luk and Mr. Haber are experiencing the success of identifying the value of centrality, they’re also beginning to benefit from another key aspect of social network theory – the referral.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Dr. Marc-David L. Seidel is an associate professor of organizational behaviour at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.
This is one in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Your Business website.