In its fifth year, Northside Festival continues to be New York City’s largest festival on discovery, by drawing upon an intense repertoire of innovation, music and film programming. It has also maintained its strong Brooklyn legacy as founders, Northside Media Group, focus on partnering with local venues to feature regional organizations in over 500 events. Northside’s Innovation portion kicked off the eight-day festival on June 12 where pioneering start-ups sat side-by-side with powerhouse companies to discuss a variety of topics.
“Design: What Now, What Next” explained how design can be used to reach a company’s ultimate goal instead of compromising for convenient, generic solutions that do not fulfill the entire plan.
Matias Corea, head of design at Behance, emphasized the importance of pursuing one’s interests and strengths. Corea used the example of his daily dilemma, design vs. code, to show how he still needs to understand the other side for his designs to be realistic in execution.
Ben Haynes, founder of Ranger, added that design ideas are often much more developed than what their logistical audits reveal is financially or technologically possible.
Jessi Arrington, co-founder of Workshop, specializes in creating stimulating yet effective workspaces to fuel the creativity and communication necessary for development. Arrington’s Workshop has partnered with organizations, such as the e-commerce site, Etsy and conference organizers, TED. Workshop provides the creative environment for the innovative qualities that characterize companies like Haynes’ and Corea’s organizations.
Panelists discussed how the mentality of society has changed to lend itself well to the rapidly expanding entrepreneurial spirit. Now, formal training or a wealth of resources are not required to get off the ground.
“Entrepreneurship removes the ceiling,” Corea said, and thus allows for growth, creativity and autonomy.
“Tapping into the Passionate Consumer” yielded a discussion from three women who have all worked at the New York Times. Moderator, Simone Oliver, online fashion editor at NYT, kept a fluid discussion going between Soraya Darabi of Zady and Amanda Hesser of Food52.
Zady is not the typical e-commerce site; it prioritizes company values of ethics to cater towards the conscious consumer. Every item has a story, from where its materials are sourced to who made the finishing touches.
Darabi encouraged audience members to support the revolution against ‘fast fashion,’ which is “ruining the premium nature… that’s also contributing to a negative eco-impact.”
She also discussed her organic approach to building a strong community of mindful individuals whose support are apparent in Zady’s sales and social media following. Subgroups within this community are people who have heard about Zady’s campaigns through word of mouth or are staunch supporters of heritage brands and the ‘Made in USA’ movement.
Darabi noted the unexpectedly large number of young adults who make up a significant portion of her consumers, such as college students and the omnipresent ‘East Coast yuppie,’ who may not have the disposable income of older generations, yet continue to make purchases on Zady.
The demand by conscientious shoppers have seen successful buy-one-give-one campaigns by TOMS and Warby Parker. Companies and institutions are doing more to donate or establish charitable partnerships as an increasing number of people learn about the plight of others.
Purpose-backed organizations have also established themselves in Washington. Josh Pavano, founder of Jonas Umbrellas and recent graduate of GW’s MBA program, has a similar charitable basis for his company. Similar to Zady, Pavano seeks a balance of heritage and ethical values in every step of the production process. He has partnered with a U.S. company that designs domestically and manufactures in China. The factory passed the Ethical Standards Audits administered by UL VS Shanghai Limited Shenzhen Branch.
Despite being only a little over a year old, Jonas Umbrellas has already finished an Indiegogo campaign. Pavano strives to provide wells to sub-Saharan African communities in an effort “to improve the health of the global community through access to clean water,” according to the company’s Facebook page. The GW community has been integral in promoting Pavano’s endeavors. Collegiate members, such as intern Noelle Bensaid, and product models, draw in peripheral potential consumers who learn about Jonas Umbrellas’ “fashion with a purpose” through Facebook and word of mouth.
Food52 has nearly 200,000 followers on their Facebook page alone, which reinforces Hesser’s statement that “food is inherently social.” The organization consolidates recipes, kitchenware, tips, feature articles and jewelry, onto a virtual platform for easy viewing and shopping. Its versatile nature has contributed to the 98 percent publication rate of recipes from community contributors that make the food “not only tasty, but actually feasible,” according to Hesser.
“Tapping into the Passionate Consumer” reflected the rapidly changing consumer mindset as increasing number of people shop for more than the sake of the purchased good. Often, they shop to support the background story.
The last talk of the day, “Human vs. Machine: Music Curation in the Next Century,” featured a surprise guest- DJ and producer, Just Blaze (Justin Smith), alongside directors from SummerStage and Next Big Sound. The moderator, Jesse Kirshbaum, founder of NUE Agency and co-founder of SoundCTRL, maintained a discussion about the importance of adding individual style, whether taste, venue or size, to help brand an event. Equally important is the ability to combine data and metrics, such as Wikipedia page views, to facilitate the selection, booking and planning processes.
Syd Cohen, director for client services at Next Big Sound, discussed the evolution of metrics and their use in booking talent for events. Cohen explained the impact an artist’s virality score (percent change) can have on his or her career, as they emerge onto the entertainment scene as openers on tours or play smaller stages at festivals until they ‘make it big.’
She used Iggy Azalea as an example, describing how Iggy Azalea broke 50 percent on her virality score in November and is now tied with The Beatles for simultaneous chart toppers in June.
Breaking 50 percent means the artist will most likely be a hit, get onto music rankings and receive radio play. However, getting into the 70-80 percent range signifies a soon to be smash record. The company has a 33 percent accuracy rate out of a group of 100 artists who will be massive hits.
Just Blaze discussed how he figures out who to collaborate with by looking at metrics, such as social media following and presence on music platforms (Soundcloud) to help book guest DJs for his weekly Webster Hall curations and production collaborations.
The panel ended with the takeaway that trust and community are critical to success. A machine cannot bring success without the support from one’s network.
The next and final day of Northside’s Innovation maintained a strong variety of programming. A selection of stand out topics are to follow. Introductions and featured speakers for each event can be found on Northside’s website.
“Terms & Conditions Do Apply: What Everyone Needs to Know” hosted by Ghostery, which is a browser extension that provides browsing security by showing users which entities are interested in or actively tracking one’s online movements.
“Benefits of a Cashless Society” expanded upon the familiar platforms GW students are familiar with, including Venmo and Uber.
The majority of badgeholders at Northside Festival were either representing their own organization, aspiring entrepreneurs or on behalf of a larger company to scope out talent, ideas and networking opportunities.