THE BLOG

To Many People, Entrepreneurship and Culture Seem Strange Bedfellows...

22/07/2014 11:02 BST | Updated 20/09/2014 10:59 BST

I'm in Soho, central London, in the faded Georgian grandeur of a room steeped in history, surrounded by 13 young entrepreneurs from ten different countries. They have come from all corners of the world to meet and share the ways they are innovating culture back home. Unathi Mandla Kondile has started the first national Xhosa newspaper covering art and current affairs for South Africa's eight million native Xhosa speakers. Tatiana Rais is rejuvenating Bogota's abandoned buildings by using them as the canvas for art and theatre installations. Zuzanna Stanska is using technology to modernise the museum experience in Poland. In total, thirteen different businesses, working in different ways in hugely diverse markets but all committed to using their creativity and enterprise to make a difference.

I've brought these people together (okay, not just me, I've had more than a bit of help from colleagues all over the world) through the British Council's Young Creative Entrepreneur Programme, a global scheme to find the brilliant people behind young businesses who are innovating the creative sector in their countries. The programme is ten years old this year and was born out of the recognition that some of the most creative and innovative ways people are using culture is motivated by creating sustainable business that make money.

Yes, make money. To many people, entrepreneurship and culture seem strange bedfellows. The word entrepreneur suggests a passion for seeking profit above all, what's that got to do with the arts? Have you ever seen a cultural entrepreneur sat round Lord Sugar's boardroom? Would they last five minutes amongst the suits talking about world domination? But The Apprentice is a TV show, and these people are doing it for real, making a living for themselves and the communities around them while staying true to their vision of using the power of culture to make a difference to their communities.

We've brought these creative entrepreneurs to London to connect them with examples of where entrepreneurship meets culture here. From big examples such as the Tate, where an entrepreneurial business model is filling the hole left by ever dwindling public subsides and where a cultural institution has regenerated an entire area, to smaller ones such as creative startups in Makerversity where a community of young visionaries are working together to create a new ecosystem for designer makers. And then there's the House of St Barnabas, a private members club where people can enjoy exclusive art experiences in the knowledge that the money made will feed back into a charity for the long term unemployed.

But most of all, bringing young creative entrepreneurs to the UK is also a chance for our creative sector to hear about how people from very different markets are facing their own challenges. Challenges of limited, sometimes nonexistent, public support for the arts, lack of recognition for the creative industries, and forging their own way to find solutions that work and get results. And yes, make money.

We live in a hugely connected world but our points of reference can still be quite limited to the English-speaking world. Through programmes like YCE, the British Council can identify what's going on outside the confines of the usual places we look to. We connect our global entrepreneurs with the UK and with each other, and sow the seeds for international knowledge sharing and collaborations.

In the last few weeks I've heard how a YCE from UAE is expanding her business via support from a fellow alumni, had an email from Indonesia on how another of our network is advising government about developing music venues with a social purpose and been told about a hugely exciting potential collaboration between YCEs from the UK and Brazil. Unlike a certain reality show, there's more than one winner in our boardroom.