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Berklee launches entrepreneurship institute

School hopes to orchestrate success

Panos Panay will lead Berklee’s creative entrepreneur center.

When bright young minds at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology want help to build a business, they can turn to the MIT Media Lab and numerous professors who helped launched careers. Enterprising students at Harvard University have the Harvard Innovation Lab.

Now, the student musicians at Berklee College of Music have a similar resource, a new campus center for entrepreneurship that will teach them to manage their careers as artists or inspire new businesses that fuse music and technology.

On Wednesday, the Boston school is launching the Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship, to be led by an alumnus who started his own successful technology business helping musicians to promote their works and book gigs.


“For almost every Berklee graduate, it’s not enough to have excellent skills around your craft. You also need to possess a particular business acumen,” said the institute’s new director, Panos Panay, who sold his company, Sonicbids, last year for $15 million. “The minute you graduate from Berklee, you will need to market yourself, negotiate contracts — you are starting a business.”

The Berklee institute will also host lecturers and entrepreneurs in residence who will help the school’s musicians develop the mindset of small business owners, even if they have no plans to open companies.

Berklee president Roger Brown noted that YouTube is now a legitimate avenue to discovery for musicians, and the backing of a major record label is no longer necessary to score a number-one hit or win a Grammy, as the rapper Macklemore proved over the past year.

With these new realities in mind, one of the institute’s first initiatives will be an all-day competition for students to produce the best YouTube music videos they can. Brown even referred to the challenge as a hackathon — a term borrowed from the tech world that usually describes a long stretch of computer programming.


Another Berklee hackathon will focus on music therapy, with the school inviting engineering students from MIT and Brown University to collaborate with its musicians.

Some Berklee students already have business ideas, but for most the focus on entrepreneurship will represent a radical change, according to Brown.

“The typical student comes with the attitude that, ‘I love music, I want to play music, but I have no idea how the world is going to create a way to compensate me for that,’ ” Brown said.

“In some ways, I’m more interested in that student. They could go to New York and try to get signed by a major label or be more entrepreneurial — do what Panos did and create something from scratch, and not wait around for anyone’s permission.”

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.