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Student Spotlight: Becky and Liam

Artist Becky McMaster
Artist Becky McMaster

What do art shows, dog walking and men’s clothing have in common? On the surface, not much, but these are Calgary businesses owned by recent graduates of our Entrepreneurship program.

Becky McMaster has her BFA from the Alberta College of Art and Design and has been working at her own art practice for several years, showing and selling her work.

“The commercial galleries in Calgary aren’t really looking to show emerging artists, and they take 60% of your sales,” says Becky. She and three artist friends have been doing successful pop-up art shows in empty spaces that they renovate themselves. The most recent was the Open Concept Art Show at the Inglewood brewery site on October 5.

Brewery site after renos
Brewery site after renos
Open Concept Art Show

“ACAD had some excellent courses on grant writing but they don’t set you up for a business mentality,” Becky says. She wants to develop the business acumen to take her art practice to the next level. “I needed a well-rounded skill set in business.”

Becky also has ambitious plans with her sister Kathryn to develop a multi-faceted project on land they inherited. She knew she needed help to develop a business plan, so she turned to the Mount Royal Entrepreneurship program last spring.

“I could see the timeline for our project was vast and we needed help to get ready,” Becky says. “It was pretty fantastic. I came out of the program with a business plan and got excellent feedback from Judy [McMillan-Evans, instructor]. She put me in touch with one of her contacts who works with Community Futures. He reviewed the plan again and gave us direction on the next steps to take.”

Bluedogwalks
Blue Dog Walks

To supplement her art income — and while she’s waiting for her big project to come to fruition — Becky started a dog walking and pet sitting service, Blue Dog Walks. “It happened pretty organically. I get to to hang out with dogs during the day and work on my art at night,” she says. She soon had 17 clients and had to give up her server job.

“The class has been really invaluable to me,” says Becky. “It has given me the tools and the confidence to pursue ambitious projects.”

Liam Rogers
Liam Rogers

Becky’s partner Liam Rogers already had a thriving business, Understudy menswear boutique, when he decided to take the Mount Royal Entrepreneurship program alongside Becky in order to fill in some gaps in his business plan.

Liam held his fall Customer Appreciation event on October 24 at Understudy, located at 13th Avenue and 1st Street SW.

“My two business partners and I jumped into the business in 2011 when we had the opportunity to take over a character space,” Liam says. “There was a niche market in Calgary that wasn’t being served. We offer brands that you can’t get at the mall.”

Understudy
Understudy

Understudy carries quality casual men’s clothing from companies such as cult Japanese denim label The Flat Head, Vancouver’s Reigning Champ and London style mavens YMC.

Liam’s marketing centres around social media (Facebook and Twitter). “Our customers do the marketing for us,” he says. “We were voted best men’s clothing store in 2012 and 2013 by FFWD.”

“At the time I signed up for the MRU program we had been open for 8 months and I realized there was a lot I didn’t know, like legal and government stuff. I wanted to get a business plan underway and came away with a pretty good one,” Liam says. “One of the best things was getting in contact with a really good accountant that I probably never would have found.”

Understudy will soon be launching a web store. “Online is the best way to grow, rather than bricks and mortar,” says Liam.

In August Becky and Liam travelled to Copenhagen, where they went to trade shows, toured architecture and art studios, and met with designers.

by Karen McCarthy

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