Written by Dave Fidlin | Photos by Craig Schreiner
While seemingly an unlikely mix, the arts and business can come together to create a masterpiece.
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater students showcased this in two business-related pitch contests this fall.
Emma Siskoff, an art major from New Berlin, said creativity is her first and foremost passion as she pursues her options after graduating from UW-Whitewater. But so, too, is entrepreneurship.
That secondary passion blossomed in October when Siskoff was a winner in the Self-Employment in the Arts — or SEA — pitch contest, held in conjunction with the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization, or CEO.
Siskoff, who aspires to create custom works for customers, was one of a handful of artists who pitched at this fall’s SEA national conference in Chicago. She has established a business, Emma Siskoff Art, and recently launched a website.
“I am most fond of painting and enjoy the quickness in which I can see progress made,” Siskoff said. “My goal is to make murals for small businesses and homeowners, as well as canvas paintings for individuals. I am focused on being personal with my customers and making art that is extremely individualized.”
Megan Matthews, a senior lecturer in UW-Whitewater’s College of Business and Economics, has been striving to prove the phrase “starving artist” a misnomer.
“The phrase I use a lot is, ‘You have a passion, let’s take it to action,’” Matthews said. “Let’s do something with this. Don’t just get a degree in it and then think you can’t make a living at it, because you can.”
Matthews made an overture to students in the College of Art and Communications to consider the SEA conference as an opportunity to pitch potential business ideas. Siskoff said the offer sparked inspiration.
On campus and nationally, SEA and CEO have been strengthening bonds with one.
William Dougan, a professor of management, said there is a natural thread between the two groups, particularly considering the distinct skill sets the students can possess.
“There are certainly examples of artists that have done extremely well with their art,” Dougan said. “There’s nothing that precludes the success of the artist.”
UW-Whitewater’s CEO chapter, which has a long history of success with pitch contests, excelled again at the October conference. Students from about 250 chapters throughout the world take part in CEO’s contest, with more than 600 students within the U.S. competing.
“The annual contest is done as a way to provide students with incentives to develop their business ideas,” Dougan said.
Chad Tjugum and Hayden Pauls, who both are part of the university’s CEO chapter, competed in the top 100 global contest this fall. Tjugum, who won UW-Whitewater’s chapter contest, took second place in the global contest.
The sophomore from Sun Prairie, an entrepreneurship major, has been developing business concepts related to the rare coin market. Tjugum has sold more than 2,600 rare coins through an eBay store, SeventyCoin, that he established in 2016.
Pitching his latest venture, RaritiesMarket Inc., earned him the strong second-place showing at the global contest. RaritiesMarket serves as an investment platform for people looking to take partial ownership in rare, high-value coins.
“This idea was pretty novel, so having that validation really helped with my confidence,” Tjugum said. “It was a great experience, all the way around.”
The conference was an invaluable experience far beyond his second-place finish.
“I do have high expectations for myself. I would’ve loved to have won first place, but (the first-place recipients) really deserved it,” Tjugum said. “At the end of the day, I’m proud to have come in second. There were a lot of really good business ideas, so it was very validating.”
Dougan said Tjugum’s strong performance builds on the legacy of the university’s CEO chapter.
“We do have a track record of producing ideas that do well,” Dougan said. “We’re considered one of the more elite chapters by the national organization. They certainly know us, that’s for sure.”