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CreaTech, Creative Economy

Midlands growth companies and Ones to Watch at UK House event

August 17, 2022
Published on:
August 9, 2022

Participants in the Ones to Watch session at UK House

As part of the UK House at the Commonwealth Games event on creative and digital technologies, afternoon sessions in the Stuart Hall room began with a discussion of ‘What’s next for creative content companies?’ This was chaired by Tim Luft, Innovation Lead at Create Central, and featured representatives from two leading digital content companies based in the West Midlands – Drew Wilkins, Co-Founder of fishinabottle and Amrit Singh, Creative Director of Rebel Creatives.

After both companies described recent projects (see a video from Rebel Creatives below), Tim Luft asked them to outline Augmented Reality (AR) developments in the West Midlands and the opportunities for AR generally.

Amrit Singh described AR as principally a tool to amplify creative content. Consumers’ experience of AR on the web could currently be a bit clunky, he said, but the spread of 5G, better hardware, and access to devices with greater memory would improve matters.

Drew Wilkins agreed that AR on the web needed to be better, adding, “It will give us another way to tell a story. When it becomes more ingrained in what we do, it will become more useful.”

Asked what could be the next ‘game changer’ in terms of content, software or hardware for the region’s digital content businesses, Drew Wilkins pointed to the use of artificial intelligence. AI would not replace human creators, he said, but be “just another way for a creative person to get their content out.”

Amrit Singh said he was excited by the deployment of next generation chatbots and other tools from platforms to enable consumers to create their own content. He predicted there would be a shift towards more niche content creation, and less focus on content by industry experts.

When asked what more the region could do to attract tech investment from venture capitalists, both panellists said that although the West Midlands had a good talent pool of creative and tech people, there were still too many silos which meant there was a lot of knowledge in different disciplines, but it was “squirrelled away” (Drew Wilkins).

Amrit Singh’s advice to companies was “Start with the creative bit and don’t worry about the technology. We have clients who say, ‘We want to do this’. Our first question is always, ‘Why?’

“We’re very keen to get into their ideas at the early stage, because that way you will do the cool thing that is easier to do.

The following session was entitled 'Learn from the metaverse experiments of CreaTech 100 Ones to Watch 2021'.

Moderated by Alexandra Green, of CreaTech 100 Ones to Watch, it featured the following representatives from the CIC CreaTech list of 100 innovative companies: Beth Hogan, CreaTechnician at Etic Labs,
 Will Humphrey, Director of Sugar Creative Studio; and Chris Hunt, CEO of Stagescreen.

Asked about the role of funding in this space, Beth Hogan said a lot of people were spending time on funding applications that were not successful and losing time in small businesses.  She said her organisation and others were looking at ways to reduce time on funding applications, by enabling local and central government bodies to say whether applications were likely to be successful.

Will Humphrey said the ability to receive government funding based on a company’s potential innovation was something that set UK businesses apart from international competitors, because it allowed companies to try riskier new things.

Chris Hunt, CEO of Stagescreen, a business that brings theatre performances to screens, said his company wanted to reinvent the format for new digital environments, which is something that companies in other markets were either not interested in, or could not make work financially.

Mr Hunt said: “We have a way to get ahead here. The only way to get from we were to where we need to be, to get something world-leading is government finance – via Innovate UK etc. So it is critical.

The panellists were asked what the UK should be doing to continue growth of the UK’s CreaTech businesses. Will Humphrey said he would focus on education and getting the message to schools about the potential of systems to explain what would be technologically possible when people leave schools.

Beth Hogan highlighted investing in technology to make partnerships work and Chris Hunt stressed the need to invest in people and skills to ensure the UK had the workforce to supply future demand.

Ensuring the metaverse is accessible and inclusive will be a challenge. Beth Hogan pointed to the incidence of people getting sick in the metaverse from using headsets, and said there would need for “tech for special needs for people who didn’t know they had special needs”.

Will Humphrey said there was enormous potential to personalise VR content, which, for instance, could allow the use of sign language and other ways to ensure that environments were tailored to the needs of all individuals.

Beth Hogan also said it was important that metaverse was dominated by monopolies or a handful of companies.

She said it was important that when you left one walled garden space to go to another, you would still retain the same digital identity.

The panellists agreed that interoperability across metaverse platforms was an under-discussed issue, but did not think it could be solved by “anyone in this room." Instead, it would need agreement at government and industry levels.

Asked about the need for collaboration, Chris Hunt said: “There are an awful lot of tech-only companies that have got solutions to problems we don’t have, but don’t have solutions to the problems we have, because they didn’t realise that they were the problems because nobody told them. Until we get past that, which we’re trying to do ourselves in our tiny way, things are not going to go as fast as they might.”

Beth Hogan advocated using technology to help collaborations, including between small businesses and international partners. Will Humphrey said partnerships could “be terrifying” but businesses needed to be brave in this respect.

Building on an earlier discussion about the need for metaverse experiences to make us feel something, the panellists were asked how the technology could deliver emotionally rich experiences. They were also questioned about the impact of the metaverse on the digital divide.

Beth Hogan said that metaverse platforms would be able to collect a lot of data on consumers from their facial responses and movements when they were in virtual worlds. It was also likely that consumers would develop a single digital identify for different platforms, so this data would be very valuable to companies. There was a risk of a divide where richer consumers could pay to avoid privacy intrusion, but others would not be able to afford this.

Will Humphrey said that the future divide could be between people whose experience of the metaverse included advertising and those who would pay to avoid ads.

Chris Hunt said there were already digital divides between people of different ages, cultures and levels of poverty and the metaverse would probably exacerbate those.

However, all agreed that the metaverse was already here and real, with Chris Hunt concluding, “the train has left the station. Join it or miss it.

Read about other sessions on August 3rd

Morning plenary

Geospatial AR, VR talent and interactive sports

Register to watch all the sessions from the day on demand


Images from UK House: The Commonwealth Business Hub.

Credit: Department for International Trade

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