Arts educator-turned-entrepreneur Emily Hope Dobkin found a way to combine three of her passions: designing creative experiences, community-building, and promoting authenticity over perfectionism, into one “betterish” business. Emily has made it her mission to facilitate meaningful connections among individuals in different communities by providing interactive workshops and programs centered around art-making and creativity. As a community-oriented entrepreneur, Emily understands the power of networking and cultivating connections. She shared with PEEKaMEET her entrepreneurial journey and advice on building genuine connections in your community.
Where did your business “Betterish” come from?
Over the past 10 years, I’ve always held job positions doing community engagement work for various non-profits: museums, galleries, libraries, marketplaces, and various community spaces.
My background is really rooted in designing creative experiences for people of all ages—I’ve done this kind of work for large events with thousands of people and I’ve designed more intimate experiences where people have more space to become vulnerable.
I’ve designed teen programs focused on arts for social change, as well as a wide range of family programs.
I’ve been deep into the realms of this community engagement work in cities like Baltimore, Eugene, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and now here in Denver.
Amidst these job positions, I’ve always had my own side-projects. The majority of these side-projects have been some form of art as social practice, and really: using art as a vehicle to bring people together.
When I moved to Denver about a year and a half ago, I was trying to figure out a way to see if I could hub all my side-projects under a big umbrella, and thus Betterish was born.
What is Betterish?
Betterish technically started as a blog. I studied creative writing when I was in college and I’ve always been writing for myself in some form. I realized I wanted to start a blog with this idea of doing things “betterish” —-less pressure to perform to perfectionism and putting emphasis on acknowledging the little things that ultimately have a bigger impact on our lives.
I also didn’t want it to be just my perspective of doing it “betterish.” So, I invited others to share their stories of betterment as well. I wanted to create a space that really lifted other people’s voices on a range of topics under this “do it betterish” mentality.
Ultimately, Betterish is about honoring and encouraging people to make better things, better relationships and all around better days. I do this through a wide range of in-person workshops, creative consulting, pop-up events and storytelling.
At the core of it, it’s about connecting more meaningfully to ourselves and the people around us, and oftentimes our life’s work.
Why is community-building so important to you?
We’re living in a time of great disconnect and divide. And I think it’s so important to bring people together in a way that allows us to make things with our hands and to look one another in the eye.
Particularly in this day-in-age, we can get very distracted by our phones and various forms of technology, so to me it’s become imperative to create spaces where real human connections and conversations can take place.
Social bridging is extremely important to my work as well: this concept of bringing different groups of people together and bonding through a shared experience. With more opportunities for social-bridging, healthier and happier communities can and will exist.
What are you most excited about for Betterish?
I’m really excited about taking one of my projects on the road…literally. Last summer, I created “The Meet Cart,” a mobile structure I roll around to facilitate a series of games and prompts that encourage people to meet each other and have meaningful conversations. I’m really excited to start taking this to more places. What I love about it is that it is so versatile: I can take it to a coffee shop, I can take it to the first day of school, I can take it to a bar, a park, a corporate office for a team building exercise— I can take it to so many different places. I’m really excited to utilize it to it’s full potential later this Fall.
You recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for Betterish. How would you describe that experience?
It was a complete rollercoaster full of learning experiences coming from all directions. I’ve written grants before, but I’ve never actually done fundraising so it was definitely a challenge, but it was a challenge I gained so much from. And in terms of connecting to community, it was all about reaching out to various networks of people from different parts of my life. The value of community really came through for me while crowdfunding.
There’s so many layers to crowdfunding. You’ve got to come up with a solid pitch, craft a video, create a reward system, and then the whole marketing & communication side of it: there’s a lot that goes in AND comes out from it.
I really re-learned to value to power of persistence in the process. I obviously believe in this work, but crowdfunding made me realize how whole-heartedly I believe in it. So much that I believed others would believe in me and want to support it financially. That’s hard, and that was big for me not only to hope for, but also pour my energy into. It was really powerful to see that come to fruition.
I feel incredibly fortunate that I made my goal, and am so grateful for the generosity of others in making that happen.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs trying to get their foot in the door?
Meet people. Find a networking strategy that works for you. For me, my networking strategy centers around inviting people into creative experiences.
When I first moved here, I posted up (and still do) every First Friday at ReCreative Denver and invite people to make a print with me. Amidst making things with our hands, we’re talking and connecting…and I also collect emails to continue the conversations. So for me, my form of networking is meeting people through printmaking.
When diving into Betterish last year, I made a point of having some kind of networking experience at least once a week whether it was going to a particular event or snagging coffee with someone new.
I also took a class at Colorado Lending Source called “The Ice House,” which was really formative to my building Betterish, connecting to people here in Denver, and in even calling myself an “entrepreneur.”
Everyone has their own ways of building their businesses or building their projects. Find a way that works for you, but also find another way that gets you out of your comfort zone. Create a strategy that feels comfortable and manageable in terms of your time & energy, but also balance that out by doing some things that are a little bit more uncomfortable and untraditional of your style.
What advice would you give someone who’s never attended a networking event before?
Stay open, say “hello,” and be kind. I have a quote on The Meet Cart that says “everyone you meet has something valuable to teach you.”
Meet as many people as you can, even if you don’t think they’ll directly benefit you in the upcoming months. You never know when that person can help you or support you later down the line. There’s been many instances where I’ve met with someone and then a few months (or sometimes: years) later, I’ve reached out to them for something to collaborate on. You never know when you are going to need the support or skill sets from a certain someone.
Take the time to nourish connections and build relationships. It takes time and effort, but so worth it in the grand scheme of things.
Photo credit: Elizabeth Birnbaum
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