Over the past three years I have acted as an advisor to projects supported by the REACT Hub – a creative economy growth experiment funded by the AHRC.
More “commercial conscience” than “business adviser” I worked with the seed funded projects at their formative development stages (using a Sandbox open innovation methodology) exploring the commercial impacts of their decision making and the vision for addressable markets later down the line.
Taking over an extraordinary run down site in central Bristol, The Rooms populated a complex which used to house firestation, police station and magistrates court to showcase the 53 projects supported by REACT in spectacular fashion.
I chaired a panel presenting and questioning four of the small businesses supported through REACT and the 3 other AHRC funded hubs across the UK. What was striking in the first part of our discussion was that none of the businesses highlighted financial support as the key value add of the Hub framework – all had derived significant other value from ideas development, research knowledge, legal / IP advice, peer review etc. Small amounts of money here were enablers to create space for focus and concerted exploration.
Throughout the day a returning theme was how to capture and describe the value created in such a way in order to secure continuing public sector support. The Hubs, and REACT in particular, created a framework which could contain a more chaotic development process, guiding and nurturing towards a (hopefully but not guaranteed) interesting outcome with future potential. With the hindsight so wonderfully demonstrated at The Rooms a highly innovative and productive impact was achieved – but probably not something that anyone could have confidently put an ROI on at outset.
A quick presentation by VC Station12 provided an interesting contrast. Their “venture building” model had many similarities (frame of reference of perceived opportunity, team creation, seed finance, idea generation process) and some great advantages in having a corporate client already in the room and potential for longevity of funding. But that structure demands a more instrumental approach, one where the messy serendipity which has generated some of the most amazing REACT projects would have been impossible.
The Rooms was a celebration of a successfully concentrated burst of collaborative creativity, the important task now is to codify the process and impact in such a way that what seems an obvious risk / reward return now, is comfortable at the beginning of any next programme for a public funding environment which is under pressure to prove value from reduced investment.