Having been through and benefited from Business Growth Hub’s ‘Greater Connected' and more recently ‘Amplify’ programmes for digital and creative businesses, I naturally jumped at an invitation to the launch of ‘Creative Scale-up’ their new initiative to support the creative sector in Greater Manchester. It’s great to see the increasing recognition of the value of the creative sector both to the UK economy and more specifically regionally, as Greater Manchester is clearly a huge centre for the creative sector having recently been identified as the second biggest in Europe. It’s great too to see public sector support through bodies like Business Growth Hub with initiatives such as this new program to help nurture the industry which, to be fair, isn’t always the easiest to engage with being made up of so many micro business alongside relatively few bigger players.
The host opened by highlighting that there are over 9000 creative businesses in Greater Manchester and that Creative Scale-up aims to support businesses that access the programme using the tried and tested formula of one to one advice, workshops and experience based learning. There was an emphasis on ‘industry leading experts’ upon whom rests the success of the scheme really, as the quality of their advice will be key. To be fair, our experiences Greater Connected and Amplify have been excellent - in fact we’ve continued to work with Mark Harland our mentor from Amplify even after its completion. These programmes were both delivered through the Growth Hub and facilitated by sector specialist consultancy Form, although there was no detail today about the Growth Hub’s partner for Creative Scale-up, suffice to say that the caliber and experience of the advisors will be critical.
Amongst the speakers was Manchester’s Mayor Andy Burnham who, regardless of what anyone may think about his politics, is clearly passionate about the City of Manchester and an advocate for more support and devolved powers for the North. He also seems to recognize the importance of the digital and creative sector, in fact I first met him when he spoke at the launch of our own Creative Wigan initiative back in March 2012 lending it his support when he was MP for Leigh.
I last saw him speak at Wigan Youth Zone in December 2017 (see blog: https://bd2.com/bd2-blog/archive/this-is-manchester-we-do-things-differently-here-anthony-h-wilson) and I have to admit I was impressed by his obvious commitment to the region which he explained was the driver behind his decision to relinquish his parliamentary role to become Mayor of Manchester. He reinforced that today when he explained how, when Secretary for Culture back in the 90s, he battled to with the BBC to get them to relocate ‘up North’ and how reluctant they were to even consider it, never mind accept the move as they 'wouldn't be able to buy The Guardian in Manchester'. However, we can all now see that as a key tenant of Media City, the BBC has attracted investment in the still thriving regeneration of a formerly derelict area with hundreds of other media and creative businesses either following them, such as ITV and the many independent production houses, or springing up to provide specialist services to it.
It’s been fantastic to see London’s seemingly unquestionable right to UK dominance not just challenged, but so successfully achieved. Burnham rightly pointed out that this has been of benefit to the BBC too with a more diverse and innovative attitude. They are, after all, a nationally publicly funded body and should have a much more balanced outlook.
He finished with an excellent point though; yes Manchester has done well to attract some big players such as the BBC, ITV, GCHQ, HP and Amazon – who coincidentally opened its second corporate offices in Manchester today – and there’s an expanding skyline of ‘shiny new buildings’ but the next challenge is how to get the young talent of the region to access the opportunities in these ivory towers.
One of the main differentiators of Creative Scale-up seems to be its focus on helping creative businesses become 'investable' and teaching them how to engage with investors and the investment community. The final speaker, Jenny Tooth OBE is CEO of the UK Business Angels Association, who along with other investment bodies, are supporting the Programme and she highlighted the lack of investment activity in the creative sector which is way below others such as Fintech or Digital. She stressed that creatives need to learn how to communicate with investors on their terms by providing financial data and case studies if they are to become attractive to investors. She emphasized that UKBAA is one of several financial and investment organizations that will be working with the Programme to help this engagement.
She also reinforced Andy Burnham’s point really, although perhaps from the other perspective, when she mentioned that nearly 60% of investment in the UK goes into the relatively tiny ‘golden triangle’ which is drawn between London to Oxford and then onto Cambridge. Shifting this might be harder than getting the BBC to Salford.