The Bridges and Frontiers of Cultural Entrepreneurship

How can digital cultural property be exported on an international scale? French and Canadian entrepreneurs demonstrated their know-how during the very first Enterprising Culture forum held in Toronto. A look back on promising initiatives in the fields of visual arts and editing.

Since 2012, the Canadian Film Centre’s Media Lab (CFC Media Lab) supports the innovative efforts of some fifty or so media start-ups through Ideaboost. It’s one of the first investment and mentoring programs in Canada to support technology-based media and entertainment companies within the framework of other pioneering initiatives such as Résidence Creatis in Paris, New York-based incubator New Inc. and the Digital Arts and Culture Accelerator in London.

It’s therefore with continuity as the watchword that the CFC held in September 2016 in Toronto the first edition of Enterprising Culture, a Canada-France forum for young stars in the creative and cultural industries. It is organized jointly with the Cultural Service of the Embassy of France in Canada and the Forum d’Avignon, an annual laboratory of ideas that deepens the ties between culture and economy.

For two days, small start-ups, institutions, politicians and investors shared their expertise and vision of the benefits for cultural actors and promoters of increasing their investments in the field of technological innovation.

From an export culture to a culture of monetization

Close to 20 years after the implementation of the Multimedia Fund (the first Canadian program to finance interactive content), the acceleration of technological advances today makes it possible to export culture to digital platforms because advances are now accompanied not only by innovative business models, but also by unprecedented partnerships that are more effective at reaching international audiences.

This is the type of partnership that the CFC’s Media Lab and the Forum d’Avignon sought to encourage through this first Canada-France initiative which—at the end of a marathon sales pitch session—enabled 11 entrepreneurs on both sides of the Atlantic to familiarize themselves with the specifics of their foreign counterparts’ industries.

A global market with multiple particularities

Monetizing cultural property at an international scale is not necessarily a smooth process given certain obvious technological, cultural and economic obstacles such as language, customs and practices as well as digital consumers’ preferred platforms. On a wider scale, there are also regulatory particularities, dominant players in place and societal values that vary from territory to territory.

Faced with these particularities among other challenges, entrepreneurs already apply the agile method to their foreign growth plans.

For most stakeholders at the Enterprising Culture forum, this means adapting their content to the cultural particularities or popular licenses of their target markets; for others, it means doing business with local partners that are already active in niche distribution networks and platforms. As for the boldest actors, they will attempt to create value around existing online/offline property or emancipate themselves from current popular revenue models in the digital economy.

Here are a few examples that stood out during the forum.

Visual Arts

Source: Wondereur

Founded in Toronto by French entrepreneurs Olivier Berger and Sophie Perceval, the Canadian Wondereur platform is an art gallery, an online boutique and an augmented exhibition guide all in one. To date, it has landed in a total of 8 countries.

The application enabled a diversity of visual and digital art influencers—collectors, critics, patrons—to present their favourite artists in a creative way. Wondereur thereby seeks to reinvent how to talk about, promote, monetize and even interact with visual and digital art through a plethora of 3.0 patronage services and immersive experiences based on unprecedented and potentially marketable technology. The short-term objective is to join forces with European museums and implement the app in twenty or so countries to take advantage of online art’s potential. Online art is considered as the most promising segment of the visual art market.

Source: Artips

For its part, Artips has been a huge success with its messaging service that sends out anecdotes on works of art that can be read in less than a minute. Distributed free of charge three times a week (5 million messages per month), these micro-messages has enabled the company to build up a highly coveted database of 400,000 subscribers with institutions such as the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, all the while generating derived content such as guided tours and e-learning cultural catch-up modules that are modeled according to partners’ needs.

Artips has just completed its second round of investments (total of $1.9 million) and plans to adapt its anecdotes to music and science in the near future.


Source: Gepeto

Torontonian Ram Puvanesasingham had noticed that parents spend more on colouring books than interactive apps. That is what gave rise to Gepeto, an interactive narrative platform that transforms children’s coloured drawings into animated short stories. The platform uses technologies that are generally used to develop video games and augmented reality. Puvanesasingham’s team is currently seeking to develop licensing partnerships with youth brands that are interested in incorporating their tools into a web interface. Gepeto is currently only available for mobile devices.

However, it’s the work of French entrepreneur Claire Faÿ, creator of Éditions animées, that was rewarded with one of the two Prix de la start-up culturelle. With net sales of $500 million in 2015, the company provides children the opportunity to animate stories based on their drawings and thereby give a second life to printed books without however replacing them. Fundamentally, it’s a traditional bookstore success that is accompanied by the free BlinkBook app used to animate users’ coloured drawings.

The tandem is also operated under license as part of custom projects—including recently for Bouygues Telecom and the Louis Vuitton Foundation. After having conquered the United Kingdom and South Korea, Éditions animées now plans to propose simpler and more affordable rate plans while increasing its investments in its innovative proprietary technologies.

The best of both worlds

It’s widely recognized that cultural institutions will be called upon to further internationalize themselves in the future. Personalities such as Canadian Opera Company’s Alexander Neef strive to develop new forms of co-creation between Canada and France, despite the particularities of both allies that will want to take advantage of both North America’s entrepreneurial culture focused on audience growth and monetization and Europe’s expertise in the all-out promotion of culture throughout the social fabric.

One thing is certain: the forum has demonstrated that technology can relieve the tension that exists between art and business. Many French and Canadian digital entrepreneurs have proven that they can be considered as creators in their own right thanks to their know-how, their knack at finding the right words and the ingenuity that they demonstrate in the development of their audiences.

Charles Stéphane Roy
Charles Stéphane Roy is a multiplatform producer and innovation lead at La maison de prod since 2013. Before that, he was the editor-in-chief of the daily Qui fait Quoi. He also carried out research and strategic analysis mandates for the Observatoire du documentaire du Québec and and Evolumedia Group. His projects, which incorporate filmtech and innovative business models, were selected at Cannes NEXT and the Cross Video Days and by the Storytek accelerator, in addition to earning the POV Hackathon Award and the HackXplor Liège TV5 Monde Award.
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