From lemons to lemonade: MSIDBT student blends arts and business at IYA

Like many artists in training, Bardia Soltani knew the difficulties of making art into a career and his primary form of income. "I knew that it was challenging. It's possible, but you basically have to become a marketer to do it."

Trained as a painter and designer at the USC Roski School of Art and Design, Soltani is one of many arts and creative students in higher education who struggled to see how their creative training could find a place in the market after graduation, and their sense of the uncertain landscape is backed up by research. Higher education experts note an increasing gap between arts curricula and the economic landscape in which graduates now find themselves.

Serendipitously, Soltani discovered his own solution to this conundrum. As an undergraduate, Soltani embarked on an exploratory venture across disciplines, taking classes in everything from Persian language, to physics, to economics. When Soltani ventured further enrolled in an introductory class at the USC Marshall School of Business, he confessed he didn’t even know what the word “entrepreneurship” meant. But once he took the class, something clicked.

"Entrepreneurship isn't just a tech startup that IPOs," explains Soltani, now a graduate student at the USC Iovine and Young Academy. "Entrepreneurship is everything that you can do that money flows through. You can start a bakery. You can sell lemonade. It's creating a flow of money by offering something."

All too often, artists and creatives who pursue a business education or seek to monetize their craft are derided as "selling out," but arts educators are quick to point out the benefits for both creatives and business. As Academy Professor Matthew Manos points out, entrepreneurship allows creatives to balance their aspirations with practical consideration.

“The work of an artist is so full of rich and meaningful gifts,” says Manos. “By introducing an education in entrepreneurship and business within the artist's practice, you're far from ‘selling out,’ you're sustaining – you're ensuring that gift can carry on, and carry you on."

It's not only the creatives who benefit – more businesses are seeking out creative talent for business and technical positions, as well as hybrid jobs that require cross-disciplinary skill sets. Arts majors also thrive in entrepreneurial settings and are almost twice as likely to engage in entrepreneurship and innovation upon graduation.

But as Soltani is quick to point out, “The only way [business education] really sticks is if you deeply internalize it...”

After graduation, Soltani applied to the Academy’s Master of Science in Integrated Design, Business and Technology. While Soltani learned the fundamentals of business and design from other USC schools, he says the Academy's integrated curriculum gave him a cohesive framework.

"It all falls under a certain train of thought, a kind of universal design thinking methodology that they instill in us,” says Soltani. “That is super-helpful in bringing all these disparate things together."

Soltani's already putting those ideas into practice at the newly-launched startup Farmers' Juice, a subscription service that provides juice from organic, family-owned farms. Soltani has focused on curating design assets for the company, but the scramble of launch means it's "all hands on deck."

The multifaceted work suits Soltani. "I enjoy the design component of things, but I also love to interrogate where the rubber meets the road."

Far from becoming a suit or sell-out, Soltani wields his business education as a tool to execute his creative visions alongside like-minded people.

"I don't have to become a multi-billionaire tech CEO. Now I can just be myself. And that's all I ever wanted, really."

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