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Buddy Up, Big Guy: Why Getting Big Companies to Collaborate With Small Creative Innovators Will Benefit Everyone

29/01/2016 13:10 GMT | Updated 29/01/2017 10:12 GMT

This week, the media has been awash with stories of Apple's economic woes, despite its position as one of the world's most successful, creative companies.

What the latest development in the Apple story demonstrates is that, no matter what incredible feats of success a business achieves, there can be no room for complacency - constant innovation is the crucial ingredient to long-term business growth.

But it can sometimes be difficult for a big business to sustain its creative vision and venture into unknown pastures. The key is being open and porous to the new and the emerging. That's where collaboration with the little guys can help.

On Tuesday, new government figures revealed that the UK's creative industries (predominantly innovative SME and micro businesses), are worth a phenomenal £84.1bn to the economy and growing at nearly 9pc a year.

Just last week, Creative England published its latest CE50 index of the country's most interesting and inspiring creative and digital companies. Spanning film, TV, video-games, app developers and digital content producers, the companies and individuals we highlight extend across England and really bring to life our oft-repeated phrase that "talent and creativity is everywhere".

But one of the challenges we face in the UK is that whilst we have a fantastic history of great writers, poets, filmmakers, musicians, artists and designers, we need to learn the lesson of every successful business - that in order to succeed you need to invest.

The government has been incredibly positive about its support for the arts and creative sector and there are a host of government-backed initiatives such as tax credits, EIS and SEIS investment schemes and the "better than expected" settlement for the arts and culture in the recent comprehensive spending review - all tangible interventions.

But the creative sector MUST take more responsibility ITSELF for investing in the small, innovative businesses that make the UK's global offer so compelling. One of the ways it can do this is if big businesses, like the Apples of this world, can have a meaningful engagement with the small businesses that are the R&D labs of future services and products.

At Creative England we've been pioneering an approach that links small creative companies with big businesses because we know that it's the little guys that are doing the innovating and ideating but the big guys who will help this great work achieve scale.

One example is Greenshoots, Creative England's partnership with Microsoft that invests in and supports small indie games companies. This approach facilitates exactly this "big guy, little guy" scenario - the small guys get to benefit from the business expertise and market reach of Microsoft and the big guys get to see some amazing new games concepts.

At a time when countries such as China are scaling up to displace some of our existing world-leaders, my gut is that the UK will still occupy the top spots for creativity in the years ahead. It's in our DNA - from our rich cultural heritage, our arts schools, colleges and universities through to our amazing creative and cultural institutions and the sophisticated public/private ecology we have that supports our creative industries.

What will really help propel our creative industries to the next level is if we can better align the imperative of big businesses to innovate and the needs of small creative companies to scale. Effective and reliable brokerage is key. If we get it right, this time next year the UK won't only match yesterday's fantastic creative sector stats, we'll smash them!

Caroline Norbury MBE is chief executive of Creative England.