Three people looking at a magazine
Attendees check out the first issue of Shift Magazine at the launch party at Shift Retail Lab on Dec. 8. Photo by Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications.

Shift Magazine celebrates failure and its importance to successful entrepreneurs

Students in da Vinci Center cross-disciplinary course produce inaugural issue of magazine associated with VCU’s Shift Retail Lab.

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Students in a cross-disciplinary topics course co-taught by faculty from the VCU da Vinci Center for Innovation and the Robertson School of Media and Culture celebrated the fruits of their semester-long labor on Dec. 8 with the launch of the first-ever issue of Shift Magazine.

Failure is a common theme throughout the publication, which highlights entrepreneurship at Virginia Commonwealth University — specifically the products available at the Shift Retail Lab.

It’s ironic, since the Shift lab — a multifunctional retail space where past and present VCU students showcase their work, gain insights and test their products with real-world customers — has been a resounding success since its opening almost one year ago.

Since January, nearly 6,000 people have visited the retail space, said Lloyd Young, director of innovation and design at the da Vinci Center, which operates the retail space, and co-instructor of the innovation topics course that created the magazine. In April, Shift Retail Lab earned an honorable mention in the Urban Design category of Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards.

Yet the magazine emphasizes failure unironically.

“Failure is an option” at the Shift Retail Lab, the magazine reads. “Successful innovators and entrepreneurs take risks and never give up. When you take a risk, failure is an option and often the quickest way to learn and improve.”

Fifteen students from undergraduates to administrators took the course, forming content, design and project management teams.

Seventeen people standing and kneeling next to each other.
Fifteen students from disciplines across the university created Shift Magazine in an innovations class taught by da Vinci Center's Lloyd Young (far left) and Robertson School's Jessica Collins (far right). Photo by Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications.

Brandon McCleskey, a senior majoring in political science in the College of Humanities and Sciences, signed up for the class an hour before it started. He had no idea what it was, and neither did his adviser. Still, she advised him to see what it was like, because he needed the course credit. 

“So the first day I walk in here — and as a political science student, I’m used to writing papers, doing thorough research — [and find out that] I’m building a magazine, doing interviews. I have no idea what that’s like. And the first day I’m like, ‘I’m dropping this. This class is not for me. I’m a political science student, you know?’ But then I just stuck with it, and I thought, ‘Let me try it out and let me challenge myself.’

“And it was great. It was more than anything I could have imagined, honestly, building a magazine and getting my work into it was so rewarding.”

When interviewing SMYTH, a founding member of the local group Kidz at Play, for a Shift article, McCleskey asked the frontman if he’s ever experienced failure.

“Failure is just a natural thing in life,” SMYTH said. “If you get so caught up on your failures or if you let failure be this menacing thing, you’ll fear it. And then you’ll never take a risk that might lead to failure. And so then you’ll just never progress because you’re not taking risks.”

Another article, “Fail Fast, Fail Frequently, and Fail Forward” by Bella Lubinskas, features Shelfies — the entrepreneurs who have utilized the Shift Retail Lab — sharing their experiences with failure, and the successes that ultimately followed.

Two hands holding a magazine open
VCU students in a cross-disciplinary topics course celebrated the fruits of their semester-long labor on Dec. 8 with the launch of the first-ever issue of Shift Magazine. Photo by Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications.

As the purveyor of Jacked! Jackfruit Jerky, Julien Reininger is a Shelfie, a Shifter — someone who works at the Shift Retail Lab — and a member of the magazine’s project management team.

Having been a part of Shift Retail Lab since day one, Reininger felt uniquely qualified to work on the magazine and he valued the opportunity to take the class with a cross-disciplinary team.

“In this class, we have people who have worked a career for years, and we also have undergrads who don’t necessarily know what they want to do in the future. And then me, as a [Master of Product Innovation] student, just being able to work with people of all ages, people of all majors. I think I've improved my planning and overall leadership skills.”

In addition to highlighting products and services currently available at Shift Retail Lab, Shift Magazine also offers insights for budding entrepreneurs.

“It’s a great recruitment tool to show students coming in, or that might be thinking about coming to VCU, to see about the opportunities that Shift gives people,” said Jessica Collins, advertising professor in the Robertson School and co-instructor of the innovations class. “Then also, it is for professors to look at to see what the students are doing on campus.

“What's cool is that it can change every time we produce it. This time it happened to be a physical, tangible magazine. Whenever the next class takes it, it could end up being a digital magazine, it could end up being more of a podcast-type thing. But the purpose will remain the same in that it will be highlighting the work coming out of Shift.”