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MSLCE Class Looks at Business Models in Creative Enterprises

By Jacob Nelson

To teach his students about the relationship between business models and technology in the creative enterprises, Northwestern Assistant Professor Dan Gruber talked about Pixar.

The animation studio responsible for a string of huge hits like the “Toy Story” series and “The Incredibles” was acquired by Disney in 2006. When that happened, Pixar brought its creative culture to the home of Mickey Mouse.

“There was an acquisition of culture by Disney,” Gruber said. The move led Pixar employees to create “a creative culture in an organization.”

This is one example of what Gruber’s course focused on — media company business models and strategies. The course involved a string of guest speakers that ran the creative industries gamut, including a columnist at Forbes, the associate artistic director of Steppenwolf Theater Company and the founder and president of a public relations firm.

“We created a culture in the class where everyone felt comfortable asking questions,” Gruber said.

A running theme of Gruber’s course was that the students, like the guest speakers, were making career pivots. Gruber explained that none of the students were making drastic career changes, but that they were transitioning to a more business-oriented side of the creative fields.

“They’re here to make a career pivot,” Gruber said about his students. “It’s not a huge transformation, it’s a retooling. To have this degree will allow them to be successful in the business side.”

Gruber encouraged his students to turn the class into a community based on curiosity. Students would look for everyday examples of interesting business models in creative enterprises, and would tweet their thoughts using a shared hashtag. The class also split into groups to do case studies they presented to the class. Gruber was impressed with how creative his class got for these presentations.

“Students put on a three act play to present the case of creating an investor meeting,” Gruber said. “They really got into it and that inspired me to consistently be open to taking the class where they wanted to go.”