Student discusses campus program’s role in launching nonprofit

· 4 min read

Student discusses campus program’s role in launching nonprofit

Applications to program due Feb. 3
Erika Casarin
Erika Casarin

University of Nebraska–Lincoln faculty, staff and students are invited to apply to an upcoming online campus entrepreneurship program, Nebraska Introduction to Customer Discovery (N-ICD). To learn more and apply by Feb. 3, click here.

The program is hosted by NUtech Ventures, the university’s technology commercialization affiliate. NUtech Ventures protects and licenses the university’s intellectual property, while also promoting entrepreneurship through programming and sponsored events.

Erika Casarin, a senior in management and the founder and CEO of The PALETTE Project, completed the N-ICD program in spring 2021. She recently shared her thoughts on participating in the program and founding a startup.

Can you discuss your startup business idea?

I’m the founder and CEO of The PALETTE Project. Our mission is to deepen partnerships between nonprofits, for-profits and the greater community through collaborative mural painting. We either do this with large-scale murals on the outside or inside of buildings, or we do it through installment pieces, such as big canvases. Whether it’s a canvas or a mural, it involves a collaborative painting experience with several individuals; they get to help paint the design of the art piece.

When we’re doing a mural for a nonprofit, we seek out organizations that are looking to add art in their space in the form of a mural. Then we bring an artist in to create a design reflecting the community that the nonprofit serves. After that, we turn to corporate partners to help fund the mural and send their employees to have a hands-on volunteer day, where they get to help paint the mural and learn more about the nonprofit.

How did your idea evolve while going through the N-ICD process?

I did N-ICD last spring, and it really helped my idea get more specific. Initially, I knew I wanted to work with nonprofits and for-profits. However, I struggled with figuring out who to talk to. My idea evolved based on who I sought out and who I tried to communicate with as I sought to sell this volunteer experience. During N-ICD, I got a better idea of the key person to talk to throughout the business development process.

What were some of your biggest takeaways from the N-ICD program, and how did it influence your startup?

The number of people I was motivated to talk to through N-ICD was incredible. It was hard work, and my calendar was full between 8-5 every day. But my biggest takeaway was having those real conversations with people in the corporate world and with nonprofits and muralists, because I am serving all three of these groups. Just being encouraged to talk to all the important stakeholders in my business, it really allowed me to learn more about the desires and needs of these groups.

Would you recommend the program to others? Why?

Customer discovery is the single most important thing in the beginning of any venture. It’s not just about doing a little bit of customer discovery and interviewing a couple of people. You have to do it very intentionally, and N-ICD gives you all the tools, resources and instructors to do that. I strongly recommend N-ICD to anyone I know, just for the reasons I mentioned. You have a community of people who are looking to challenge you and help you with your idea, because the worst thing that you can do is build a business, product or service that nobody wants. Customer discovery helps you strengthen your idea, and N-ICD is a really thorough program to lead you through the customer discovery process.

What are your next steps as you look to grow your business?

With The PALETTE Project, it’s a lot of planning in advance. Right now, I’m starting to plan for our mural season of summer and fall of 2022. I’m looking to continue to do murals and art pieces within the community, with people who would like to experience what it’s like to stand next to a stranger and create this beautiful piece of art. I love the conversations and memories that are able to come from that, so I’m looking forward to doing more murals and more pieces of art for the community.

More information is available on The PALETTE Project website, Instagram and Facebook. Organizations interested in completing a PALETTE Project can contact Casarin at

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