Students Explore Their Entrepreneurial Side

A string quartet plays at Groundwork Coffee in North Hollywood, as part of Anna Scheider’s composer + coffee project.

To have the opportunity to get to develop [my idea] with people who do this for a living is a dream come true. Jordan Brokken

“There is no perfect opportunity. You just have to do it,” advises Lizzy Nicastro, Manager of Community Engagement and Career Development, as she guides students through the process of developing an entrepreneurial project for Colburn’s New Venture Competition.

The competition, now in its third year, was launched to help students develop creativity and innovation skills to enhance the work they do on their instruments. “An iterative process, students generate an idea, formulate a business model around their idea, and pitch it to a panel of judges. Selected winners are then mentored for up to a year as they get their business idea off the ground,” explained Nate Zeisler, Director of Community Engagement and Career Development. “We are always blown away by the ideas that students bring forward, and this competition has been a great tool for developing the careers of our amazing Conservatory musicians.”

Since its inception, the competition has funded student and alumni entrepreneurial projects from Solar System Symphony to the composer + coffee project to one of this year’s winners, a classical music drinking game. “The competition is completely different for everyone based on their experiences, interests, skills and strengths,” Lizzy added. She and Nate work closely with the contestants leading up to and after the pitch day, tailoring their mentoring based on students’ individual strengths and weaknesses.

Anna Scheider, a graduating bass player, received funding from the competition last year for her composer + coffee project. Since then, she has worked with the Career Development Center to create an intimate concert series in a coffee shop. She recently held her first concert at Groundwork Coffee in North Hollywood with a program titled “Music of Outsiders.” Anna and the coffee shop consider it a huge success, and the shop’s management is excited to continue working with her on more concerts. In the future, she plans to create coffee blends based on composers to accompany the music.

“I couldn’t have done any of this without Lizzy and Nate. They know that I’m better at planning so they gave me the push to just go out and do it,” Anna said. Lizzy is well attuned to each student’s working style, and uses that knowledge to work with them in the way they find most helpful: “Anna’s top strengths are strategy and planning, so it helped her to have a list of action items at the end of each meeting, and for us to break down the steps to get from this idea of having a concert series to actually executing it.”

Lizzy’s working process differs from person to person based on their individual levels of comfort and openness to changing their idea. “We warn students not to get married to how they think their idea is going to turn out,” she says.

Jordan Brokken, a graduating bassoonist, started off with a simple concept: a drinking game to make classical music more palatable to an uninitiated audience. Exactly what that looks like, however, is still up in the air, and he will continue to workshop his concept with the Career Development Center when he returns to Colburn next semester for his master’s degree. “My idea is kind of vague right now and to have the opportunity to get to develop it with people who do this for a living is a dream come true. I couldn’t be more thrilled.”

In addition to Jordan, three alumni will also receive funding from this year’s New Venture Competition: Gina Luciani, who pitched an electric flute project to further her personal brand; Josh Cote, who is developing a 3D printed mass market horn mute; and Katy La Favre, who is writing arts and creativity based lesson plans for pre-K to 3rd grade students.