Samantha Diamond ’11 co-founded CultureConnect, a technology service that puts mobile technology in the hands of every museum and cultural institution - giving them the tools they need to create vibrant and engaging experiences for their visitors. Easy to use and designed specifically for the museum market, the platform helps create interactive tours, mobile image galleries, curriculum guides, and more.
Tell us about CultureConnect and what is unique about it?
My friend Monika Smyczek and I saw that museums and cultural organizations had incredible collections and stories to tell, but most struggled to find the resources and expertise for mobile projects. Only a handful of large institutions can afford to build beautiful apps, so we founded CultureConnect to meet the rest of the market's growing demand. Now these organizations can make their archives and collections accessible to a wider, more diverse audience by engaging people where they spend their time: their smartphones and tablets.
CultureConnect puts the museum experience in the palm of your hand, whether you're a student on a field trip, tourist on vacation or exploring a museum's collection from home. The platform creates and publishes a variety of mobile experiences from custom tours, galleries, education tools and interactive exhibitions. Museums can build a tour for visitors and a standards-aligned curriculum guide for teachers using one system – a task that would have previously required two separate, resource-intensive projects.
What has been your biggest “A-Ha!” moment to date? How has it changed your business?
We started out solving the problem of making mobile technology accessible to museums, demonstrating the technology, how it worked, and why it was different. We really shifted our thinking - and had more success with our customers - when we talked about how our technology changes the museum experience. The technology replaces the clunky, old audio tours and wall plaques museums use to tell a story. Technology is able to deliver an interactive museum experience that encourages discovery and dialog and brings the museum into the classroom.
How did the Columbia Business School classes you took shape your business/management approach?
So many classes were useful. I would say the most practical course was managerial negotiations. I apply what I learned in that class on a daily basis. I recommend the class to every MBA student.
The Columbia Alumni Connection: How have you used it? How do you stay involved?
Googlegroup emails, Linkedin and Facebook. I feel like I am an email or phone call away from so many people that are willing to help.
What’s next? Where do you see your business going?
We have built the core of our platform and are working with several museums in New Orleans including the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Preservation Resource Center. We're releasing our first app with the PRC on jazz musicians and the historic homes and neighborhoods in which they lived. It’s really exciting because the app showcases photographs, music, and research that has never been assembled and made available to the public before. Our product is technology, but we are in the storytelling business.
What advice would you give to a graduating Columbia student with entrepreneurial aspirations?
When you start a business, you need to be all-in. I don't think it's possible to dabble as an entrepreneur. It took me six months to decide to start my own company, but when I did, things took off quickly.
Steve Gilman '15
“To organize a robust community, sometimes you have to put walls around it,” says Steve Gilman ‘15 about his company, Block Party Suites.