Four Passion Projects Ignited at HOW Design Live

Ignite your passion. Create your future. 

That’s the tagline for HOW Design Live 2017.

But some of us started igniting our passion with Ignite Your Passion Project at HOWLive in 2016!

What is Ignite Your Passion Project?

At HOW Design Live in 2016, Ignite Your Passion Project was introduced as a new evening session and presented under the banner of the Creative Entrepreneur program. It was billed as a “Shark Tank for creatives, without the teeth” and it was a lot like that: four designers pitched their “passion projects” to three experts and a live audience of supporters!


Here’s how it went down:

A couple months before HOW Design Live in Atlanta, 16 creatives applied to pitch their passion project (a.k.a. side gig). Four lucky ones were selected to get invaluable feedback from three experts on our panel: designer-turned-venture capitalist, Kristian Andersen, artist and author, Danny Gregory, and SCAD professor, Holly Quarzo.

After some serious preparation and coaching on how to pitch from me and HOWLive favorite, Terri Trespicio (who also moderated the session), each designer got up in front of an audience of approximately 1,000 enthusiastic and encouraging attendees and gave their concise five-minute pitch. Each pitch followed a format that everyone had agreed to in advance, and each designer ended their pitch with a single question they were seeking advice on. Then our three experts asked their own questions, gave feedback, and answered the burning questions each creative had about next steps for their projects.

We are now four months out and I’ve reconnected with everyone for an update on their progress.

Passion Project #1

Jenny Poff mapped out a one-year plan for The Designers Roundtable—a national online accountability group for “creativepreneurs.”

The Advice: Quit your job and do this full time!

Four months later, Jenny is definitely moving in that direction, even if she hasn’t quite quit yet.

  • Jenny and her team, most of whom attended HOWLive in Atlanta as a group, have built a one-year plan to expand “The DR,” as they call it.
  • Jenny is laying the foundation to enter the speaking circuit to share her story, raise awareness among the creative community, and make deeper connections with other creativepreneurs.
  • They’ve established free public online events so creatives interested in the group can get a taste of it, including 3rd Fridays: Your Creative Happy Hour.


You can hear all about it in the recent podcast interview. And read about it here on the Creative Freelancer Blog.

Passion Project #2

Mike Cuales officially launched a start up! The Project “360 Mentoring by Mike Cuales and LEVR Studios” uses virtual reality as a recruiting tool to show prospective mentors how easy and important it is to engage our youth.

In the four months since HOW Design Live, Mike Cuales has actually transformed his side gig into an official start up, LEVR Studios LLC!


Here’s the update (and thank you note) I received from him three months after the event.

Dear Ilise,

Just wanted to reach out to you and say thank you for such an amazing opportunity at HOW Design Ignite. It’s been non-stop since the talk. Not so much from contacts or connections from the event, but from the confidence and drive that you further inspired in me. I was able to release the first film, “Mentoring in 360” which will be used to help recruit new STEM mentors across NC.

Oddly enough, I was invited to host a “VR workshop” at the upcoming Hopscotch Design Festival which will also be attended by our very own Debbie Millman!

My colleague and I will be exhibiting a few movies from our Raleigh Spaces Project, a VR film series that connects participants with the creative people, places and spaces throughout Raleigh. The feature film, “People as Places as People” follows local artist Luke Buchanan as he reflects on the impact that space has on his own work.

Again, thank you so much for the encouragement.

Listen to our recent podcast interview for the details.

Passion Project #3

Shannon Eary Partnered and Pivoted. The Project: is custom, cut-to-fit mosaic “Art Toppers” for existing furniture & beautiful re-purposed tables.

Shannon has made a lot of progress since HOWLive, but not what she had imagined. Here’s her update:

After HOWLive, I still had a lot of question marks and a lot of challenges. I wasn’t sure how to market these products and really needed customers to work with. I also struggled with determining pricing and locating the best marketplace to sell these at a premium price.

A solution came along when I got a call from a friend. She had fallen in love with creating upcycled furniture and thought we could join forces. She uses salvaged materials to create new and beautiful furniture. Her upcycled, creative pieces coupled with my mosaic designs are guaranteed to produce some amazing hard to resist furniture.

We met over a week earlier this summer, formed a plan and started our new business “Steel City Shenanigans.” This is a great solution for my work because upcycled furniture is popular and has an existing customer base to tap into. Adding my unique mosaic work gives us a slight edge against existing upcycled furniture designers. Blending these two techniques certainly achieves my passion for creating functional works of art. The custom furniture tops will still be available through Steel City Shenanigans but won’t be our primary focus.

We have several projects planned and are currently in build mode. We’ve overhauled our home workspaces to be more conducive to producing this kind work. Our goal is to have a small inventory of pieces and start selling in the first quarter of 2017. We already have some interest in our works in progress. We have identified several online marketplaces we want to sell and validated our pricing against similar competitors. In the next few months we will be developing our marketing strategy and start building our website and shops.

Things seem to be falling into place for an exciting 2017. Sometimes you have to pivot a little to turn your passion into reality, I have faith this was the right pivot for me. While all of this is quite exciting, it isn’t without challenge. Trying to keep my independent graphic design business going at the same time as we are producing as much furniture as possible is tough. Finding time for everything isn’t always easy. But having family and a business partner to help keep me motivated has really helped.

Passion Project #4

Chrissie Van Hoever is working on a web site (and had a baby). The Project: The Pattern App will enable and inspire users to learn about, create, and share patterns.

Chrissie’s main question was, “What is my next step for making this App real? (If it is raising funds, how do I start?)” The advice she got: Make a web site before you make an app.

On top of that, Chrissie was pregnant when she pitched. Here’s her update and how she followed the guidance of the experts.

I took to heart the suggestion from the Ignite panel to try making a website first instead of the app. I am currently working on a layout and writing new content. It is going to take on more of a blog format to begin with so that I can build on it over time. My progress is slow moving with baby Finn here, but it is moving (which is more that it was before!).

So much progress in so little time. This is what HOWLive is all about. Watch for details when the web site launches for 2017 at Join us and be a part of the HOWLive community, whether you pitch your own passion project or simply support your peers and fellow creatives!