Startup looks to catch eye of art pa­trons on trips

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By SIQI LIN For China Daily

If you were to stay at an Airbnb rental in Bos­ton, you could find your­self sur­rounded by a col­lec­tion of art­works upon en­ter­ing.

You could down­load an app and scan the work of art. Then the artist who cre­ated it and the story be­hind it will re­flect on your phone. If you like it, you can pur­chase it with your phone and have the piece shipped to your home.

That’s how Tekuma works, a startup com­pany founded by three re­cent alumni of the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy. Tekuma cu­rates hos­pi­tal­ity spa­ces with cre­ative con­tent.

Artists can sub­mit their art­works to Tekuma. The com­pany then will find space op­er­a­tors such as Airbnb hosts who are will­ing to pro­vide a space to show­case the art­work.

The startup’s founders — Tengjia Liu, Kun Qian and Marwan Aboudib — are ar­chi­tec­ture and real es­tate grad­u­ates of MIT. Tekuma is the first two ini­tials of their names. Their idea stemmed from a class they took to­gether a year ago.

“We only had five stu­dents and two pro­fes­sors in the class,” said Liu. “We cre­ated many ar­chi­tec­ture pro­to­types and com­puter-gen­er­ated art­works for the se­mes­ter.

“Ev­ery piece of our work has its own story and aes­thetic val­ues,” he said. “It’s very sad that we worked for three months, and only a few pro­fes­sors saw them.”

“The way we are liv­ing to­day, ev­ery­thing has be­come dig­i­tal,” Abou­did said. “It’s on a com­puter. There are some things you need to hold with your hands, touch and see.”

Tekuma’s goal is to al­low cre­ative con­tent to be dis­played in a phys­i­cal way.

“So many peo­ple cre­ate beau­ti­ful things; we want to make sure that this tal­ent can be shown in an af­ford­able way. Mean­while, the pub­lic can ac­cess this tal­ent,” Aboudib said.

Tekuma’s ini­tial idea was as an e-commerce ven­ture. They printed the art­works and framed them, and then had a pop-up gallery at MIT. They wanted ro even­tu­ally cre­ate an on­line re­tail mar­ket­place.

How­ever, they got into trou­ble for print­ing and not ask­ing for per­mis­sion for the pop-up gallery.

“Around 10 pm at night, we didn’t know what to do with the art­works in the pop-up gallery, and we were ex­tremely tired,” Qian said. “And then we came up with the idea of putting one art­work in ev­ery study room, and for each art­work, we will leave a la­bel with the artist’s name, de­scrip­tion of the art­work, and the QR code. You can buy the art­work and take it with you.”

Af­ter a month, they sold seven out of 20 pieces.

“It’s amaz­ing, be­cause we re­al­ize we add a value to the study room, to the space, and we add a value to the art­works,” Aboudib said.

They then ap­plied to the MIT Global Founders’ Skills Ac­cel­er­a­tors. Af­ter sev­eral rounds of in­ter­views, they were ac­cepted into the pro­gram and formed one of 12 teams from among 130 ap­pli­cants.

“We really choose stu­dents over the idea. What we want to find are the stu­dents who have the pas­sion to be en­trepreneurs,” said Trish Cot­ter, en­tre­pre­neur in res­i­dence at Martin Trust Cen­ter for MIT En­trepreneur­ship. “Tekuma (with) very lit­tle en­trepreneur­ship train­ing were taken in be­cause of the de­sire and pas­sion of the team.”

“The sweet spot of a typ­i­cal Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pany is when the mar­ket­ing side is vi­ral, and the con­tent side is also vi­ral,” Joi Ito, MIT me­dia lab’s di­rec­tor, said at the open­ing of the demo. “So when both sides are vi­ral, you don’t have to in­ject any money; all you have to do is in­stru­ment ev­ery­thing and keep tun­ing the vi­ral­ity on both sides. It scales.”

“Art needs space; space needs art,” Aboudib said dur­ing Tekuma’s pre­sen­ta­tion.

Tekuma is build­ing a busi­ness-to­busi­ness plat­form. The three men just grad­u­ated from MIT in De­cem­ber and then will work on Tekuma full time. They re­cently wel­comed an­other team mem­ber Naomi He­bert who is tak­ing the role of Tekuma’s head of growth.

Tekuma re­cently part­nered with the MIT Coun­cil of Art to host an art gallery dur­ing the Miami Art Basel in De­cem­ber. The com­pany is also work­ing with Flat­book, which of­fers fur­nished spa­ces for nightly and monthly stays in cities across the world, and In­tea­house, a Cam­bridge-based in­cu­ba­tor that is ex­pand­ing its en­trepreneur­ship net­work glob­ally. They said they are open to any spa­ces and won’t be lim­ited to art­work in the long run.

They are work­ing on a pric­ing strat­egy and build­ing the web plat­form.

Qian said he is con­fi­dent in Tekuma’s prospects but is con­cerned about the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing able to stay in the United States af­ter one year, be­cause they are all in­ter­na­tional stu­dents.

“We need to go through the H-1B (visa) process; it might be very hard for three of us to get the lottery,” Qian said.

“Amer­ica is an amaz­ing place, and we started here, we do amaz­ing things here, and hope­fully Amer­ica al­lows us to stay. If not, the world is huge; there’re so many op­por­tu­ni­ties for us,” he said.

“We are al­ways try­ing to cre­ate a global com­pany. Hope­fully it can be (in the) US, but we are ready to em­brace the pos­si­bil­ity of mov­ing to new places.”

The founders of Bos­ton startup Tekuma (from left) Tengjia Liu, Kun Qian and Marwan Aboudib

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