ArtLifting makes invisible talent visible by connecting artists who are either homeless or disabled with corporate buyers, helping companies uplift their offices while supporting their communities.
Through her social work experience, Liz Powers discovered thousands of art groups in shelters or disability centers across the country. She realized the need for a marketplace – and ArtLifting was born.
“The i-lab is a space that’s full of energy and innovation, and allows different people from across the university to be at the same level and work together.”
– Liz Powers, Founder, ArtLifting
ARTLIFTING AT A GLANCE
INDUSTRY: Social Impact
FOUNDERS: Liz Powers and Spencer Powers
PROGRAMS & LABS: Venture Incubation Program, Launch Lab
HARVARD SCHOOLS: Harvard College
THE ARTLIFTING STORY
Open a West Elm catalog, and you’ll find art labeled “ArtLifting for West Elm.” Given the company’s reach today, it’s hard to believe that a handful of years ago, the venture was no more than an idea that a social worker was mulling over in her Harvard dorm room.
“My background was in social work, and I had countless clients desperately wanting jobs but, due to mental health challenges or other reasons, a 9-to-5 was never going to be a fit,” says Liz Powers. “I started ArtLifting out of the dorm room, and moved in to the i-lab just a few months after launching the company.”
Powers was accepted into the i-lab’s Venture Incubation Program, with her brother joining her as co-founder. “Joining the i-lab was incredible because we were surrounded not only by supportive staff, but also by undergrads and students from different grad schools, including the business school. It was an incredibly diverse and supportive group. So when we had to figure out things like HR, paying our artists, or creating a new online marketplace, I could just ask a friend sitting next to me. I didn’t have to feel like I was in this silo, looking everything up online without guidance.”
TRACTION TO DATE
Five years ago, ArtLifting started with $4,000 of savings and four Boston artists. Since then, the company has grown to 20 states, 145 artists, and three sales channels: ecommerce, corporate and licensing. Every artist earns 55% from the profit of each sale, and 1% goes to strengthen art services for community partners. ”We’ve sold to hundreds of corporations across the country,” says Powers. “The CEO of LinkedIN has our artwork hanging in his office. So does the PayPal executive suite. And we’ve sold to Google across the country.”
A Q&A WITH THE FOUNDER
How did you get started at the i-lab?
I applied to be part of the Venture Incubation Program in the i-lab in the fall of 2013. We actually weren’t accepted the first time we applied. We were just at the idea stage at that point.
We kept building the company, and we were accepted to the VIP in the winter of 2013.
I was SO excited. Not only did I stop running the business out of my apartment, but I became connected to inspiring mentors, i-lab staff, and other entrepreneurs. It was a total game-changer.
Which resource at the Harvard Innovation Labs was most helpful for ArtLifting? Why was it so useful?
My fellow entrepreneurs. Being surrounded by other entrepreneurs allowed us to limit the time spent researching how to build a business and go straight to a solution.
For example, instead of having to spend hours researching payroll companies, I just asked the founders of other teams sitting around me, and they recommended specific companies to work with.
No matter how different someone else’s business is, it is absolutely amazing how much you have in common. All founders and entrepreneurs need to file the similar paperwork, market their company, get lawyers, etc. The list is endless.
If you had to give another student one piece of advice to get the most out of the i-lab or Launch Lab, what would it be?
Ask a LOT of questions to everyone around you. Be aware of your weaknesses and surround yourself with mentors in those areas.
You’ll find that you can have more advisers than you have time to meet with them, so be extremely strategic and diligent with your time.
What would you like people to know about ArtLifting?
ArtLifting is a business of the future. We are creating jobs for homeless and disabled individuals. We are bringing invisible talent into focus.
I am thrilled to help start a movement of businesses that create jobs for homeless and disabled individuals.
Through this process, I have learned a lot. I have listened a lot. I have heard time and time again from homeless and disabled individuals that they don’t want a handout. They want opportunity.
I am excited to be part of the movement of for-profit social enterprises that are redefining “social good.” Proving how “social good” doesn’t just mean “charity.”
We are creating jobs, offering opportunities, and helping invisible individuals become visible.
To learn more about ArtLifting, visit their website.