“Take chances, make mistakes, get messy,” the immortal saying from Ms. Frizzle and her Magic School Bus ring louder than ever in my mind.
Less than a week ago I had to announce that a business venture, a bookstore called Space Cat Books, is closing at the end of this month. Thousands of dollars and countless hours of work, toil, sweat, and tears have ended up amounting to a closing sale and lots of reorganizing. What was all the hard work for? How should I feel about a business venture not working out? How might others perceive this failure?
Hi, my name is Clinton Edminster, and I’m a serial entrepreneur and the new chair of The Creative Coast’s board of directors. It’s in the latter capacity that I was asked to write this column. It may seem out of sorts that an organization committed to fostering small business innovation felt comfortable putting me in charge of the meetings but if you look at it from another angle — it makes all the sense in the world. Or at least all the sense in Savannah.
The Creative Coast is here to nurture the members of the Savannah community engaged in creative or innovative endeavors and to cultivate an environment in which they can thrive. That’s literally our mission statement and it’s pretty explicit that creating a comfortable climate for innovation is a big part of what we do.
I believe the best way to cultivate innovation is to help entrepreneurs become comfortable with failure. We are here to normalize failure, to celebrate it, learn from it and to help us all rise up from the pits and try again. Whether it’s your first time falling on your face, or the 99th, we’ll be here to cheer you on.
Space Cat Books wasn’t my first business. In high school, I started a mini-cafe out of my locker that ended up getting me suspended. In college, I traveled to Sweden and started a mobile gay-bar on a bicycle that ended up paying for a trip to Paris. Three years ago, I started Starlandia Supply and that ended up helping thousands of artists, students and crafters from all around the world find the supplies they need, save money, and help keep perfectly fine art materials out of the waste system.
At Starlandia, we’re constantly trying out new ways of organizing our supplies in an endeavor to create the best way to help customers find what they need. Sometimes these attempts work incredibly well, and sometimes they fall flat on their face. But each time we regroup, ponder a new way forward, and give it a try. From our organizing, our back-room intake protocol, the checkout system, to our marketing, we’re always innovating towards the best possible scenario. Of course, that also means we’re taking on risks others may shy away from.
Now, more than ever, this world needs people taking risks in all manner of ways. Creatively, politically, and economically — we’re in a world thirsty for innovation, and innovation requires risk, failure, and constant reinvention. And it also needs spaces where people feel comfortable taking these risks.
This, in essence, is The Creative Coast. In all the years that I’ve known of this organization, long before I even got involved, it has always been a beacon of hope for entrepreneurs, and a place to take chances, make mistakes and get messy. And now with leadership from Coco Papy and Blake Ellis, there is simply no better team and no better organization to place the responsibility of protecting our city’s sacred space where it is OK for entrepreneurs to fail.
This year I encourage you take a risk. Put yourself out there and see how the world responds. It won’t be easy and not everyone may support you. But that’s reality. Coco has a sign in her office that says, “If at first you don’t succeed, welcome to adult life.”
Welcome to the new Creative Coast. We help hold the space for mistakes. It just so happens that it’s the same space that holds solutions.
Clinton Edminster, founder and owner of Starlandia Supply, is a volunteer board member and current chair of The Creative Coast, a nonprofit organization supporting local innovators that is made possible by the city of Savannah and the Savannah Economic Development Authority. Contact him at email@example.com