Alumnae create business to inspire connection and play at work
At first glance, degrees in theater, religious studies and art history might not seem ideal for entrepreneurship.
But Katie Wall (BFAThtr’05) and Courtney Jacobson (RelSt, ArtHist’07) say their classes were the perfect training ground for starting and running their new company, The Culture Biz, which builds culture and connection through intentional play.
The two didn’t know each other while at the University of Colorado Boulder. After college, Jacobson began working in summer camps and community programming while Wall waited tables at night and vied for acting jobs during the day. It was during Wall’s work in restaurants that she realized culture was key for workers.
“We’d play frivolous games to keep ourselves engaged,” Wall said. “Find the cork was a staple, we’d hide a cork around the restaurant, and while bussing tables or taking orders, we’d look for the cork. That simple game would bring the entire staff together.”
Wall said that concept of play at work stayed with her as she transitioned to more corporate jobs where it became even clearer which work teams had core values of trust and connection and which ones didn’t.
“When we feel connected to the people we work with, we are happier, more productive, and we can be more creative,” Wall said.
Jacobson and Wall met by chance in 2019 at a Denver community center where Wall was facilitating a workshop on how pre-school kids and their grandparents could better connect through play. Jacobson had just returned from a conference about the benefits of play as a science.
“We got to talking,” Wall said. “We both aligned on the necessity of culture as a huge benefit to an organization. We connected on that shared value of connection as well as play.”
When they met again, Wall pitched Jacobson on the idea for the business. “We left the meeting as business partners,” Wall said.
They started The CultureBiz in October 2019. To date, and despite the pandemic, they’ve worked with over 600 people in 25 organizations, spanning nonprofits and businesses across several industries. The company is also launching new products in team building, communication, strategic planning and creative problem solving. Plus, it’s expanding into the business-to-consumer world with a new product that helps connect people in situations where awkward small talk is at a peak via games and conversation starters.
Both women credit classes from their respective degrees in helping them in their roles at The CultureBiz.
“Theater is all about ensemble,” Wall said. “Many of my performance classes were all about building a successful ensemble, where we felt like as a group, we could fail, try new things, and then succeed as a group. And a lot of that initial trust was built through play-based theater games. I really enjoyed watching something start as an ember of an idea, and with support, become something magical.”
Wall said classes outside her major helped, too, specifically sociology and psychology. “They solidified my excitement about people and showed me how my interests could translate beyond performing.”
When we feel connected to the people we work with, we are happier, more productive, and we can be more creative."
Jacobson said she “loved every minute” of her classes.
“One class I think of regularly is Rituals and Rites of Passages. When we’re talking about team building and making sure employees feel like a community, ritualizing things like staff meetings, communications and appreciation is so important,” Jacobson said. “You not only want employees to know what to expect in meetings, but to make sure they feel a part of the community—a connection to the greater whole.”
Both have advice for students who are considering entrepreneurship.
“You have to believe in your idea, be willing to continue to home in on it, and be able to talk about it confidently,” Wall said. “But honestly, the best thing for an entrepreneur is to have a collaborator, whether it be a mentor or a business partner.”
And Jacobson suggests taking classes “that will open up your mind and thoughts. You never know what value that may add later on in your career. And all work experience—in restaurants, at camps, in retail, wherever—is all so helpful to learning the professional world and operating on a team.”