Living the dream: Entrepreneurship lets you be your own boss

Cheryl Hsu, Nicole Bazuin and Alexandra Hong are the creative trio behind Madeleine Co.

Cheryl Hsu, Nicole Bazuin and Alexandra Hong are the creative trio behind Madeleine Co. (Courtesy Madeleine Co.)

Three artists took their knack for innovation and launched an entrepreneurial start-up called Madeleine Co.

The company will be assisting with Ryerson University’s Creative Catalyst conference on art and social innovation, which will take place June 2015.

Madeleine Co. is a creative agency that fuses art and design with integrated social marketing strategies. The co-founders collaborate with clients to create artistic projects that have an underlying social message.

Each co-founder brings a unique area of expertise. Nicole Bazuin is the visual artist, Alexandra Hong is the marketing maverick and Cheryl Hsu is in charge of integrated strategy.

They saw an opportunity to combine business and art.

“There was something missing out there. When people see what we do, I think it’s a refreshing take on what they think of as marketing and inter-communications or even artistic projects,” said Hong, who earned a professional achievement in management designation in 2012 from the Ted Rogers School of Management.

Wendy Cukier, vice-president of research and innovation at Ryerson, said the Creative Catalyst conference will bring together researchers, artists and social activists to explore the ways in which art can advance social change.

Cukier said she is enthusiastic about working with the company.

“I am delighted to be involved with such a bright, creative and innovative group,” she said.

Madeleine Co. will be designing the conference, identifying speakers, managing the logistics as well as curating an art exhibition and compiling a documentary.

“Both the exhibition and documentary will feature interviews and showcase current work and people in the area,” said Hsu, a current student in the Strategic Foresight and Innovation Program at OCAD University.

“The goal is to connect current practitioners, and also create more awareness around how Canadian artists and theorists are engaging in artistic practices to drive social change.”

In 2014, the trio were were given funding to kick-start Madeleine Co. from the Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship, a combined grant from the Ontario Centres of Excellence and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The grant targets entrepreneurs with creative ideas who will better Ontario’s economy. For the first time this year, the fellowship opened the application to social enterprises instead of just tech companies.

Madeleine Co. has previously partnered with Ryerson’s Diversity Institute for their 2013-14 project, “Foreign Encounters: Redefining Diversity.” The project encouraged students to share a memorable moment involving diversity. Madeleine Collective chose their five favorite individual submissions and made those into a photo series, which displayed on screens around campus and at numerous conferences.

It was such a success that other universities in Ontario are now hoping to repeat the project. Bazuin, Hong and Hsu said they could not divulge the names of the specific universities at this time.

Ryerson is leading the post-secondary shift in Canada to make entrepreneurship a priority area of study. In June, Ryerson was crowned the first Ashoka Changemaker Campus in Canada for the support it provides to social entrepreneurs.

The women behind Madeleine Co. agree that the encouragement of entrepreneurship at post-secondary institutions is important because it can give students a strong foundation and the courage to jump at opportunities.

“What Ryerson is doing is amazing — preparing people to be an entrepreneur and pursue ideas. It’s the perfect setup,” said Hong.

Hong hopes to see more students and young people take a leap, follow their passions and do their own thing.

“For our generation, why not be entrepreneurs? We have ideas. Let’s run with them and see where it goes.”

Hong said she wanted to take the risk of starting her own business. She didn’t want a typical job — she wanted to follow her passion.

“I didn’t want to go and do a desk job that’s going to give me a stable paycheck. To me, that’s not interesting. I’d rather take the risk and see what comes out of what I believe is meaningful.”

Hong believes that there’s not just one way to be an entrepreneur.

“You can’t ever be like, ‘These are the steps to be an entrepreneur.’ Part of being an entrepreneur is working with a million moving parts. Being able to pick up, move, rotate and identify what’s out there and what makes sense,” said Hong.

Bazuin, the third co-founder of the company, a freelance artist who graduated from Ryerson’s film studies program in 2010, said that entrepreneurship is gaining momentum because people want to be in control of their work.

“People want to follow the beat of their own drum and start something that they’re passionate about,” she said.

For all their successes, the members of Madeleine Co. said that being your own boss does come with its challenges.

“There are times you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re scared and you have to just believe in yourself to have it work,” said Hong.

“But there’s also these high moments where you’re like, ‘This is exactly who I want to be and this is exactly what I want to do,’ and that’s so fulfilling.”

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