With the second round of applications underway from 1 December running until 15 January Silicon Valley-based Designer Fund aims to put designers in front of investors and mentors to start up enterprises with a foundation in design. Design is a big word but it makes sense to give those that create the opportunity to dictate how their ideas develop into businesses and products.
London and Ahmedabad-, India, based Superflux are one of 10 startups to be assisted by Designer Fund having applied back in July. Why did they choose to apply to the fund?
"Their website said they would give initial seed funding, mentorship, spaces to work and develop a prototype. We were in very early stages, so any funding and mentorship would be great, that's what we were looking for" explains Anab Jain, co-founder (with Jon Ardern) of Superflux.
Is there an attraction to Silicon Valley in that it's the home of start up? Is this a unique selling point for Designer Fund? "From our perspective that was the main attraction" continues Jain, "we had been looking at funds here in the UK too, for instance the Technology Strategy Board UK who also fund startups but it looked like we needed to produce match funding. What attracted us to Designer Fund was the word 'designer' and the fact that they wanted to help designers become entrepreneurs, one could immediately sense an empathy that was unique."
What does the word entrepreneur mean to Superflux? "I guess it means that we 'make our idea real' - as designers - we don't wait for clients or commissions, but go for it on our back, and get a product into the market, see what happens" says Jain.
Is there a mentality gap between the US and UK in risk taking and thinking of design, not as an add on? "We had heard about the openness of the valley folks, but really its been amazing, the response, the speed and just the attitude" notes Jain, "however things have changed a lot in the UK recently there is a lot more interest and enthusiasm. Nonetheless, just from experience, if the folks at Designers Fund put us in touch with a valley based potential investor or mentor they immediately get back to us, chat with us, and want to know where we are at and want to stay in touch, but on the other hand, from the introductions we had from them for UK based people? We haven't heard back from any of them."
A pity, as there is plenty to choose from in the form of government funded initiatives, loosely connected to government being seen 'to do the right thing'. Tech City, a recent stamp of approval from Whitehall of the Old Street area of London, being a creative 'hub' - how I hate that word, appears to be a top-heavy civil service exercise in cool, band wagon jumping after the band has already played venture. We need to reach out further.
Can Designer Fund help the globalisation of innovation economy or are we all still bound by national divide? "I really hope that would be possible, but perhaps we might not quite be there yet. Taxation laws are very different between UK and US for instance, US investors are hesitant to invest in UK companies unless we moved there" explains Jain, "our goal will be to attract UK investors, especially when the government seems so keen on helping entrepreneurs at home, and with the Tech City buzz, we really hope people at home will be the ones to call on."
Should we rely on the government for change when it comes to imaginative solutions to technology and design? Perhaps we can help them, perhaps we don't need them. A difficult union for sure. Perhaps we just need a bit of Californian sunny disposition.
The Designer Fund is accepting new applicants for investments until 15 January, visit The Designer Fund for more information.