Amanda Slavin (left) with actress Rosario Dawson, one of the Learning is Beautiful speakers at the 2015 Life is Beautiful festival in Las Vegas.
Amanda Slavin ’08 (NEAG), ’09 MA is using her degree to teach, but in a most unconventional way. “I want to use events to educate and inspire,” says Slavin, founder and CEO of the marketing company CatalystCreativ.
As an example, one of her clients is the huge Las Vegas music festival Life is Beautiful, to which Slavin and her colleagues added a Learning is Beautiful complement of speakers and workshops. Even Slavin seems amazed at its success. “We had five hundred to a thousand people coming to these talks — during a music festival!”
Rosario Dawson speaking about Voto Latino was a big draw, says Slavin, but the real shocker was Bill Nye the Science Guy. “Two thousand people were screaming, ‘We want Bill, we want Bill.’ We had to call in extra security.” Which, Slavin asserts, proves her theory that people crave education, and if you give it to them in engaging ways, they will come.
While working toward her master’s in UConn’s accelerated 5-year Neag program, Slavin did the usual teaching stints. But it was the work on her thesis that inspired her atypical career path.
“I worked with classroom engagement and found that the most successful way to engage students was to get them outside and working within their communities,” she says.
It was “that exact same thing that got me so excited about the Downtown Project in Las Vegas,” says Slavin. The Project was CatalystCreativ’s first client — and its inspiration for being. A private initiative by Tony Hsieh of Zappos, Downtown Project invests in small businesses to energize the city’s center.
Slavin met Hsieh at a conference during which she says he invited her to come see him in Las Vegas. “When I got there we started to talk and he said, ‘I don’t really remember you.’”
Nevertheless, the two kept talking and ended up in a business partnership that saw Slavin moving to Vegas to start CatalystCreativ.
It turns out that Slavin had been percolating on a project like this since her UConn graduation, when she entered a recessed job market and zigged from her expected teaching path to accept a full-time job with the New York restaurant company she’d done party planning for during school.
“A lot of events are open bars,” says Slavin. “People go, mingle, and leave not really any different than when they came. I wanted speakers, workshops, and — just like with my thesis — ways to engage people in the city or environment they are in.”
When it started with Hsieh, CatalystCreativ employed just Slavin. It now has two full- and eight part-time employees creating marketing and brand campaigns on- and offline. The team works entirely remotely from Los Angeles, Atlanta, Milwaukee, New York, Philadelphia, and Las Vegas.
Working from Philly is creative director and fellow UConn alum Mike Mason ’10 (BUS), ’13 MS. He and Slavin met in Storrs when they both lived at Carriage House.
The CatalystCreativ team, from left: Evelyn M. Sabino, Robert Fowler, Amanda Slavin, and Mike Mason at this year’s Life is Beautiful festival in Vegas.