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Non-profit

Creative East

This is an edited transcript of comments from an online Creative Industries Council Place Forum event on June 6 2024. Read more about the Forum.

Sam Burton, Creative East

I am the senior investment advisor at the University of East Anglia in the innovation funding team.

We are one of the delivery partners of the Create Growth Programme in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire (Create East). We also work with local councils, combined authority and educational partners such as Norwich University of the Arts, the University of Suffolk, and Anglia Ruskin University to deliver support.

We have run an investment fund at the university for the last twelve years, investing in businesses across all sectors to enable more sustainable work. We came at this from both a creative perspective based on our previous jobs, as well as an investment perspective which was key to the success of the steering group.

As part of Create East, we are working with businesses, that have already received investment or funding and grown their businesses. We wanted our support to be bespoke, which was tricky given we were working with 80 businesses across two years but in the end, we designed our programmes to have core masterclasses on common issues, such as understanding IP and investment, alongside seminars which responded to specific business needs. The key thing for our delivery was about making it very specific to the creative industries, especially given feedback from businesses that previous business support had been generic.

We are delivering our programme across four cohorts, each with 20 businesses from across our geographies, and over a 12-week period. We also picked physical hubs that were accessible since one day a week we bring all the businesses together in a room for the masterclasses, seminars or pitch events where we get them to hone their business proposition as if they were pitching to investors. They also work with a key advisor to guide them through the programme.

Our ‘secret sauce’ is that we have a support framework of around 80 experts and specialists including lawyers and specialists in IP and marketing, who work across the sub-sectors. Businesses can access a substantial number of hours with these stakeholders on a pick and mix basis. We chose not to attach a specific mentor to participants as we believed that model would not necessarily work because of their differing needs and the low likelihood of a single mentor being able to figure it all out for them.

The challenge we have faced, which the other regions might also say, is breaking the perception amongst applicants that the word ‘investment’ does not only mean something like 'Dragons' Den' and that we cover all types of investment from crowdfunding through to venture capital, angel investment, and everything in between.

The other key consideration is that creative businesses are often small teams which expand and contract with projects and with one founder who needs to work on the business rather than in the business. That day out with us every week is invaluable and the feedback we get from businesses is that this is something they felt they did not have time for but by actually doing it, this meant they could accelerate their business.

My takeaways are that for these kinds of programme, one-size-fits-all general business advice does not cut it and instead, it needs to be tailored and have people meet in the room to support collaboration. Finally, participating businesses have been successful in accessing other funds because the programme has boosted their confidence, helped hone their proposition, and given investors confidence themselves. It is important to understand that a little bit of grant money can unlock finance elsewhere because investors feel confidence.

Q&A

1. How do we ensure job quality, particularly around the real living wage? What experience have you got in encouraging businesses as they are growing to think about that?

Part of our programme is getting businesses to understand that core investment is key and that it is not only about project-by-project granting which is less available these days. Also to actually think about their creative businesses the way other businesses think, which does not come naturally sometimes, and this is where the support programmes are really important.

2. With a new government coming in, what is the one thing that you would ask it for (that is not money)?

Listen to the people doing the stuff. To hear from creative businesses, creative business leaders and education groups to hear what they want.

Image: creative East