Ahead of this Saturday’s TEDxUTSC Resonance event, what resonates most with UTSC alum and TEDx speaker Axel Villamil is the journey of finding who he wanted to be.

Graduating in 2017 with a double major in computer science and media studies, Villamil tells me that he “had zero clue what [he] was doing even going into these programs.” All he really knew was that he was passionate about not only math and technology, but also media and the arts. 

After his first taste of performing at the Stratford Festival when he was eight, becoming a professional hip hop dancer at 14, and starting his own production company, Red Label Studios, at 16, Villamil “decided to combine [his] passions” in technology and the arts a few months before graduating. Born from the conflicts in scheduling and choreography that he encountered while competing in the international hip hop scene and attending classes, his application StageKeep was “the perfect blend… of technology and the arts.” 

Mixing the arts and technology

“I felt like StageKeep represented an idea of mixing two things that were normally not seen together be successful,” he says. StageKeep was nurtured into a full business by Villamil and fellow UTSC alum and co-founder William Mak at UTSC’s startup accelerator, The Hub. 

The formation management app allows choreographers and performers to coordinate routines digitally, avoiding the complications of rough pencil sketches and scheduling rehearsals that everyone can attend. Live demonstrations later helped the app gain the attention of CBC’s Dragon’s Den and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.

Since the app’s launch at Entrepreneurship@UofT Week last March, a number of students have shown interest in StageKeep. Villamil was “honoured and touched” when he realized that he was “able to inspire others to mix their passions.” 

Since Villamil is a freelance designer and developer in addition to being a CEO and founder of three companies, I asked him how he approaches each project proposal that he receives from his collaborators — not ‘clients,’ he explains, because, as set designer Es Devlin told him at a recent Hxouse conference, the history of the word is rooted in subordination and dependency. 

As is fitting for his background, Villamil uses Venn diagrams to illustrate his creative process: “There’s always this Venn diagram of what you want to do as an artist and what those people want to pay you for. Your job is to find that intersection in that Venn diagram for the relationship to work.” 

Villamil says that while creating something that is both beautiful and fulfils the collaborators’ intentions is important, he encourages creatives to treat their work with respect.

“Love what you do and humble yourself. Be selfish [with your art] because you only have so much time in this world, so you should be doing what fulfills you as a person. Love what you do because without passion, your art is meaningless.” 

“Make something worth your time and soul… Life is not easy and the journey in entrepreneurship and being a creative can be heavy, so you might as well be doing what you’re passionate about. Don’t waste time doing something you don’t love.”

Moving forward, Villamil wants to bring out the best in all of his companies, starting with breaking more norms and continuing to explore the confluence between the arts and technology. In particular, Villamil wants to replace the image of starving artists with that of smart and technologically advanced ones. The first step, he says, is understanding that where art has inspired so many fields, including technology, “the technology industry should inspire art back.”

“Doer of all”

At this point, you’d be correct in noting that Villamil has touched bases with a lot of different fields and areas of interest. Discussing the original focus of his talk with TEDx organizer Piyal Sarker, he realized that despite talking about being fearless and pursuing entrepreneurship, he can still struggle with doubts.

The talk that Villamil will present at TEDx on Saturday is titled “Doer of all, Master of none.” But while Villamil admits that he hates the feelings of uncertainty and inadequacy that this title suggests, when he suggested the title, he hadn’t realized that there is more to this adage. 

In full, the quotation reads: “Doer of all, Master of none, but oftentimes better than master of one.” For Villamil, that last clause is the most important part. 

He describes himself now as “a generalist.” Because of the sheer quantity of their skills, he explains, “generalists are more likely to be innovative,” and this is the key idea that he wants his audience to grasp — that, “especially in this day and age, we need more innovation to change the world.”

At the end of the day, he says, “Everyone deserves to do what makes them happy. The journey is not easy, but everyone can do it.” 

TEDxUTSC 2019: Resonance will take place February 2 from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm at UTSC.