An Interview with NEW INC
The first museum-led incubator, based in NYC's New Museum
NEW INC was established in 2013 as the first museum-led incubator. Based in New York City at the New Museum, NEW INC sits at the intersection of art, design and technology working with an interdisciplinary mix of artists, designers, futurists, technologists and creative entrepreneurs. It’s not merely about business and funding like typical incubators: it’s everything from new business, to ambitious art installations, to provocative experiments in science and urban design.
NEW INC “reimagines how a museum could behave in the 21st century” and seeks to “infuse a cultural agenda back into words like innovation, entrepreneur, and incubator.”
– Karen Wong, NEW INC Cofounder and New Museum Deputy Director, from NEW INC’s Five Year Report
And, the stats are impressive:
- 100 creative entrepreneurs served annually
- 350+ in the alumni network and 175+ in the mentor network
- 50% women and 49% people of color (cumulative five year average)
- 175 businesses created or retained in NYC since 2015 and 392 jobs created.
- $17 million raised in investment capital
Samantha Diamond, CultureConnect’s CEO and NEW INC mentor, sat down with NEW INC’s Director, Stephanie Pereira and Head of Programs, Kelsa Trom to learn more about what makes this incubator unique, the growing Museum Technology Track, and what inspires their work today and their big plans for the future.
SD: At this year’s NEW INC Demo Day, we were really blown away by the members and their presentations. How do you select each year’s cohort?
SP: Thanks! Demo Day is a special moment in the year where we invite a small number of our members to present in front of an invite-only audience of investors, creative directors, prospective business partners and curators. We have some key criteria for inviting people to the stage on Demo Day – we assess who in the program is at a place where they’re ready for exposure and are at a pivotal moment in their project or business. We also look for diversity of presenters and of practice to show the breadth of disciplines and areas of expertise that our members embody.
How far along are concepts when participants first join NEW INC?
It varies – some folks apply to our program with just an idea, others with a proof of concept, others with a fledgling business that they’d like to grow or develop in a new way. For us, what matters most is the people – not just their projects. If an individual with a prior history of creative excellence applies to NEW INC with a new idea, they’re likely to find a home here.
What inspired the development of the Museum Technology Track and how did you make it happen?
The Museum Technology Track, now entering its third year, is a program funded by the Knight Foundation that addresses a perceived gap in access to accessible, off-the-shelf technology that any museum, regardless of size or resources, can use to improve audience engagement. Within the Track, our members spend a year researching and prototyping a new product in partnership with a museum that shares their vision.
This was certainly one of the reasons I founded CultureConnect! What’s your vision for how to solve this in the context of NEW INC?
Many of the small design and tech agencies in places like New York would love to be partnering with cultural organizations – but museums are rarely able to afford these bespoke agency services. We’re at a moment in which larger and more established institutions are outpacing small museums’ technological capabilities with more speed and agility than ever, and we feel that it’s crucial for the benefits and the experiences afforded by tech – whether in exhibitions and visitors’ experiences or behind the scenes in museum infrastructure – is crucial.
Our vision is to impact the capabilities and the future direction of the broader museum field. By working collaboratively with museums outside of New York City, we’re able to cultivate diverse perspectives among our Track members and their partners.
It’s been fantastic joining the NEW INC mentor community. Can you share more about how you see the role of mentors in the program? What makes for a really good mentor?
Mentors have a huge hand in shaping our members’ experience of NEW INC – and for many folks, cultivating a relationship with a mentor is considered the most valuable part of their time with us. This year every team at NEW INC will be paired with a dedicated mentor to coach them throughout the year. Mentors also offer Office Hours, during which they dive into a specific problem and have deeper one-on-one conversations to work through challenges and offer feedback. Additionally, we have engaged a Museum Technology Mentor in Residence to focus on the specific needs of developing a human-centered, scalable product. A good mentor is first and foremost a good listener. When it comes to creative entrepreneurship, there is no single script for personal and professional growth to follow. When mentors can offer pointed, specific advice on a consistent problem area, we see real opportunities for transformation among our members.
Are there any challenges you see again and again across cohort members?
One of the most frequent challenges our member community faces is the desire to do and be everything – to be the visionary and the designer, to run business development and to create products, to play manager and fundraiser all at the same time. Sharing the load, prioritizing the things that matter most and finding efficient ways to handle the operational necessities of running a new business are consistent challenges among our members.
I completely agree and still find these to be a challenge sometimes! How does your team guide members through these common challenges?
Our program indexes heavily toward actionable, outcome-driven learning. Members can emerge from workshops and lectures with a clear sense of how to tackle the brass tacks of creative entrepreneurship and are given a proactive power stance in the face of an endless to-do list.
What drew you both, personally, to join NEW INC as a team member?
KT: I am energized by the community, and feel deeply that creative folks whose practice goes against the grain of traditional business are seeding the freshest, most vital ideas.
SP: For me, I went to art school but never became an artist. Instead I have focused my career on helping artists be better at what they do. The vocabulary and tools and ethos that artists are equipped with by art schools and mentors when setting out to sustain a studio practice are simply inadequate. I’ve made it my mission to help close the gap between long term sustainable success and being able to make the creative work you love. NEW INC has always been a place for this kind of thinking, and it was a no-brainer for me to join the team.
I’m bringing a stronger, clearer business focus to the program in an effort to bring clarity to the fear, uncertainty and scarcity many creatives are conditioned to feel.
– Stephanie Pereira, NEW INC Director
Does new leadership mark a new phase in NEW INC’s direction?
The community and the groundswell of impact that emerges from our cohort is most core to what NEW INC is and how we will move into the future. Now a year into my role as Director, I’m bringing a stronger, clearer business focus to the program in an effort to bring clarity to the fear, uncertainty and scarcity many creatives are conditioned to feel. By combining a practical, business-driven approach with the core values and vision of the creative community, NEW INC is enabling our members to achieve autonomy and lasting sustainability.
Are there some groups you wish you had more participation from? Artists, arts administrators, technologists, someone else?
We are leaning in to Focus Tracks – this year, for the first time ever, all of our members will belong to a Track. As a result, we’re seeing increased participation from more specific subject matter experts. We expect to continue in this direction as our program evolves.
What was the biggest conclusion/take-away from your 5-year report?
Compiling and releasing the Report drew our attention to a few key things. First, our mentor community has been rich and core to members’ success from the beginning. Also, the types of projects and businesses members have launched and scaled through their NEW INC experience have ranged dramatically. By focusing on Tracks, we’re able to create space for multi-hyphenate creatives to shine and occupy a new realm at the cross section of diverse practices. (Check out NEW INC’s 5-year report here).
Let’s talk the next 5 years! What’s on NEW INC’s roadmap?
5 years from now we’ll be in a beautiful new space and will be nurturing creatives across art, design and tech that hasn’t yet been dreamed of. We are focused on deepening our ecosystem through the ever-growing body of practitioners in New York City, and in finding meaningful partnerships like we have with the Knight Foundation to bring cutting edge work and approaches to new places. You can expect to see us working more closely with other museum program partners, and expanding our areas of focus in stride with emerging technologies and defining topics of our time. All in all, our vision of fostering an inclusive creative economy will continue to be the through-line for all we do.
What can museum professionals reading this blog/newsletter do to keep up-to-date and informed on the cohorts and their projects?
Do you have any tips for readers that may be considering applying to join NEW INC’s next cohort?
Joining NEW INC means joining both a community and a movement. We value excellence and equity in equal measure – we look for emerging projects that have a vision, and that are driven to create cultural impact. If you’re interested in applying, show us what you’ve accomplished with great pride, and be honest in knowing what you don’t know. We’re here to support members as they face their blind spots and business challenges alike. Keep an eye out for our Year 7 Open Call, launching early March 2020.
About NEW INC:
NEW INC was cofounded by Lisa Phillips, Toby Devan Lewis Director, and Karen Wong, Deputy Director of the New Museum in 2013. As the first museum-led cultural incubator, NEW INC was conceived of as a not-for-profit platform for furthering the Museum’s ongoing commitment to new art and new ideas. Based in New York City, NEW INC is an incubator for people working at the intersection of art, design, and technology. Their member cohort of more than100 people represents an interdisciplinary mix of artists, designers, technologists, futurists, and creative entrepreneurs chosen via an annual open call for their experience, vision, and ambition. People at NEW INC are working on everything from new businesses, to ambitious art installations, to provocative experiments in science and urban design.