Advantage Creative

Posted on 25/11/16 How do you create a great creative community?

ECBN Study Tour 2016

The European Creative Business Network (ECBN) is a not for profit foundation established in 2011 to promote the interests of the cultural creative industries in Europe. It helps creative entrepreneurs to do business and collaborate across Europe.

The network has 26 members from 13 EU countries including leading agencies, hubs, centres and intermediaries for the cultural creative industries.

Its activities include commissioning and publishing research papers relevant to the support and growth of cultural and creative industries in Europe. ECBN also organizes and hosts at least two events each year: an annual creative industries conference in Brussels and an annual study tour.

This year the ECBN Study Tour took us to Copenhagen and Malmo for an intensive programme of guided tours to 10 creative industries hubs in these two exciting and vibrant cities. Previous tours have visited London and Madrid.

I joined the tour on behalf of Advantage Creative, as we are especially interested in how creative industries hubs are formed, how they grow, and how they collaborate with funders and investors.

Day 1 involved a whistle stop tour of five different hubs in Copenhagen, each one led and facilitated by founders or current managers:

Republikken – a creative industries co-working space founded with 20 initial members, now a hub to a wide community of creative industries entrepreneurs and SMEs.

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KPH Projects – a hub for social, environmental and cultural entrepreneurs. Working as a cooperative, their “family” of members commit to providing 3 hours of consultancy support for each other as part of their membership. 

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Founders House – an SME incubator for tech start-ups, with a strong emphasis on collaboration between complementary businesses and providing tech SMEs with access to international markets and venture capital.

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Duop – a cooperative of designers and makers with the motto “creating together”. Members can pay for access to space or contribute their time to meet design briefs.

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Ilutron – a community of artists sharing space on a boat where they collaborate on cultural events and arts commissions with a particular emphasis on recycled materials.

On day 2 we took a train over the fantastic bridge that connects Denmark to Sweden where we visited five different hubs in Malmo, which has one of the youngest and most diverse populations in Europe. In Malmo, we took part in a series of short seminars at:

STPLN  – Sweden’s first maker space, has facilities for co-working, screen printing, fabrication, a cycle repair workshop, theatre space, and hosts design workshops for children using recycled materials.

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Minc – offers flexible workspace alongside incubator and accelerator programmes with a strong focus on growing IP intensive start-ups through networking, mentoring and funding.

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Media Evolution – founded in 2005 as a hub for digital and media businesses to collaborate and grow, it now hosts and annual digital media conference for 3,000 delegates and its 400 members have a say in how the organization is run.

Ideon Innovation – has grown since 2012 into a Science Park that hosts 5,000 companies employing 10,000 people in Lund, a University town 15km from Malmo. It has been designed to be the most attractive place for knowledge intensive businesses, and offers exceptional connections to Venture Capital investors. Here we learned about two VC sponsored initiatives for the creative industries: Barcamper – a camper van that toured Sweden to find start-up entrepreneurs; and Phase to Face – an investment programme that helps top athletes capitalize on their reputation and branding.

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Day 3 included a seminar and guided tour at Christiania where we learned of its autonomous approach to supporting the artist community that live there.

The 28 participants in our tour also took some time to reflect on the highlights of our experience, and share thoughts and insights arising from the tour.

What did we learn?

Each of us learned from our experience of visiting and talking with our different hosts - and with each other - over the course of the 3 day Study Tour. The outstanding themes for me are described below.

It’s all about the Community

Naturally, we saw some excellent examples of cool Scandinavian design permeating the various different workspaces that we visited. But the striking thing in each case was that the creative hub rarely starts with the physical space – it’s all about the community.

Members of the hubs are typically called the “community” or “family” and in most cases the sense of sharing, collaborating and cooperating is compelling.

Continuing the domestic theme, workspaces were often described as the “house” with carefully designed spaces and events that help members connect both professionally and socially.

Most “houses” dedicate wall space or screen space to showcasing their “family” along with expertise and contact details to help members connect with each other. Some even go as far as designing in consultancy support between members of the “family” as a part of membership.

Many of the hubs we visited operate as a cooperative, or a community company where profits are re-invested in the hub. In all cases, members are involved in decision making and shaping the character and style of the hub as it evolves.

The importance and influence of Founders

Most hubs were founded by a small group of individuals who built a community of like-minded creative around them according to their specialist areas and interests.

This might be a community or designer / makers who can work together to work on design briefs or prototyping. It might be a community of creative digital companies with a focus on building international trade and investment connections. Or it might be a community of creatives with an interest in social entrepreneurship.

The striking thing for me was the diversity of the different communities that we saw, and how the founders influence the character of each hub in the first instance.

In each case, founder members had extensive experience and credibility in their field of expertise, and invested a considerable amount of their own time and energy in building the community around them.

Curating the community

The community is always “curated” by the founders, and members are typically accepted by invitation or through a selection process.

In some cases, the community is curated based on members’ similarities, where founders want to build collaboration between different businesses with a focus on digital media, digital technologies, or design. These communities encourage members to share expertise and develop new services, products or technologies that can be commercialized.

In other cases, the community is curated for diversity, such that members can collaborate and inter-trade to support each other across a wide spectrum of services and audiences.

Curating the community is incredibly important, as it is the “family” of members who have a stake in how the “house” is run and shape the character and style of the community as it evolves.

Funding

The relationship between hubs and funders varies according to the character of the hub and the needs of its members.

At KPH Projects and STPLN, we learned how social entrepreneurs are supported in achieving crowd funding or trust & foundation funding for innovative products or services.

At Founders House, Minc and Media Evolution, we heard how the community is curated based on members’ potential for innovation and growth, and how incubator and accelerator programmes are designed in partnership with VC and Angel investors.

At Ideon Innovation, we learned how private venture capital was used to invest in projects to seek out entrepreneurs and enrol them into incubation programmes. Is there a fourth generation of business incubation models that is better suited to cultural and creative sector start-ups? This is explored in a report by The Creative Plot called Don't sit on it!

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Flexibility

Often, what is originally designed as co-working space very quickly becomes adapted to semi-open plan small offices for companies with 4 or more employees, alongside co-working space for individual start-up entrepreneurs.

The striking thing is how quickly and fluidly the physical space adapts to the needs of the community – form follows function.

In a similar way the support services, networking events, accelerator and incubator programmes evolve in different ways to suit the needs of the different communities, such that each hub has its own unique style and character.

In each case, the physical space, events and support are designed by the founders in the first instance, and then evolve, shaped and informed by the needs of the community. As Michael at Duop would say: 

We have a plan – until we have a better one.

Context not content

This brings me on to one of the main learning points of the Study Tour. There is no single formula for a successful creative hub. Each one is different, depending upon the original vision of its founder members, how the membership is curated, and how this membership has evolved the hub according to its needs. Each “house” is as individual as the “family” that occupies it.

In some creative hubs, creative entrepreneurs sit quite happily alongside an education project for children on design and recycling. In other hubs, creative start-ups rub shoulders with CEOs of global high tech companies and international VC investors. In between these two extremes is an incredibly rich and diverse spectrum of creative hubs, each with its own particular flavor to suit every palette.


Written by John Holmes

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