Skip to content

Challenging Assumptions: Who says “Entrepreneurial” = “for-profit?”

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

I want to spread the word about the Startup Open, a challenge issued in conjunction with Global Entrepreneurship Week (November 15-21).

The Kauffman Foundation has announced it will select the “50 most promising startups” launched during GE Week. The Open can be entered by anyone in the US who is “creating a business” and planning to have a “startup moment” during GE Week. Though they never say it explicitly, I’m betting the organizers assume these outstanding entrepreneurs are all starting traditional for-profit enterprises. I’d like to bust that assumption.

The Kaufmann Laboratories for Enterprise Creation, in case you haven’t heard of them (I hadn’t!) is dedicated to growing the American economy by catalyzing thousands of new entrepreneurs who will create “high growth ventures.” They are looking for “founders who want to make a huge difference. To build companies that create thousands of jobs, generate dramatic economic benefits, and transform lives.” I don’t know about “thousands of jobs,” but I can make a pretty good case that many museum enterprises do a damn fine job of meeting the other criteria.

And we need to encourage museum entrepreneurs to explore new ways of doing business, to find new best practices for “how to make a huge difference.” This may involve vital new forms of the traditional nonprofit model, or it may venture into new territory. I’ve preached for years that “nonprofit is a tax status, not a business philosophy.” Some are fond of forecasting the demise of nonprofit status (yes, that would be you, Howard Taylor), forcing museums to survive without this source of government support. And now the boundaries are blurring anyway with the creation of hybrid models such as LC3, as alternatives to traditional nonprofit status. LC3s try to combine the best of both worlds (for and non-profit), encouraging the investment of private capital in organizations designed to achieve social objectives.

So here is my challenge to you—let’s make one of those 50 winners a museum, or museum-related enterprise.

Why not (for example), Culture Kettle? This newly launched LC3 enterprise will “conduct exploratory research and foster programmatic innovation in the arts and the public sciences and humanities.” It’s already announced an exciting research agenda, including study of the multiple audiences of campus art museums; alternate concert formats for young audiences, and (best of all!) “a multi-disciplinary study of how awe and wonder function in “peak experiences” of nature and art.” (Hopefully they will bolster and expand on Reach Advisors’ findings on the kind of experiences that turn people into life-long museum fans!)

Skip over related stories to continue reading article

The incentive? (Besides the satisfaction of busting assumptions about nonprofits and museums, and bragging rights, of course). One entrepreneur will receive a free trip to Richard Branson’s private island to network with experienced entrepreneurs. Two others will receive a two–day, customized experience at the Kauffman Labs in Kansas City to help them take the next giant step with their startup. Pretty cool, eh?

But we need to get on the ball here, folks.

  • Applications are due at noon, November 17th
  • Applicants have to expect to have a “startup moment” during the week of Nov 15-21) This “moment” could be, for example, getting incorporated; opening the doors for business; making a “first sale”; outside funding is secured (land your first donation?!); a final milestone is achieved in new product development; or anything else that can be interpreted as the company “opening for business”.

Help spread the word! Tweet, post to Fbook or your blog, send a link about the contest to any museum founders/entrepreneurs you know of and encourage them to enter. And tell them to let me know, too, ( so we can make our own “list o’ museum entrepreneurs” honoring the entrants, whether or not they get chosen for Kaufman’s 50.

AAM Member-Only Content

AAM Members get exclusive access to premium digital content including:

  • Featured articles from Museum magazine
  • Access to more than 1,500 resource listings from the Resource Center
  • Tools, reports, and templates for equipping your work in museums
Log In

We're Sorry

Your current membership level does not allow you to access this content.

Upgrade Your Membership



  1. This is a great idea, EXCEPT that they are looking for "high-growth, scalable" enterprises capable of creating thousands of jobs. I'm not sure most museums can or should fit into that categorization…

  2. And I don't want to be a downer… I guess I was thinking more in the scope of the particular startup I have in mind, which is definitely not optimized for rapid growth.

    I'm sure there are more ambitious people out there with the vision to make something larger scale happen!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Field Notes!

Packed with stories and insights for museum people, Field Notes is delivered to your inbox every Monday. Once you've completed the form below, confirm your subscription in the email sent to you.

If you are a current AAM member, please sign-up using the email address associated with your account.

Are you a museum professional?

Are you a current AAM member?

Success! Now check your email to confirm your subscription, and please add to your safe sender list.