The School for Creative Startups launch: Cocktails, camaraderie and controversy

Seven Hills PR co-founder Michael Hayman compered the evening. He was on fine form, punctuating proceedings with regular sarcastic epithets ("And your question is? ...Hurry up!"), keeping the pace of debate practically supersonic. The guests were amply lubricated by endless Couvoisier cocktails and no one stood on ceremony as questions were fired from the floor.

Doug Richard opened the evening with a brief explanation of what School for Creative Startups hopes to achieve. "Entrepreneurship is a teachable skill. Therefore it should be learned," he said. "The only thing that people need to walk in the door with are passion and talent; we can supply everything else."

A bold statement. "I know I can do this. I've already taught 12,000 people to date," he said, perhaps as much for his own benefit as ours.

"All the wealth of Britain happens to be created by a small group of people - entrepreneurs," he continued. "And not just any entrepreneur: it is the young businesses creating most of the revenue."

The School for Creative Startups aims to help 100 London-based creatives across all sectors, arming them with the business nous required to survive that all-important first year and giving them access to a pool of mentors to call in times of trouble.

"In their first year, most start-ups don't have a clue what they're doing," said Richard. "I know. I was one. Bullets were flying past my head and I thought it was just a light breeze. It's taken me 20 years to realise what a poor business person I was."

So, why is the School for Creative Startups so London-specific? Doug Richard courted contention with his answer. "It is an uncomfortable truth that the papers don't want to print, but the fact is that the recovery is going to start where we are already doing well; it is going to be capital-led: London."

Of course, the location is also tied to the project's funding model. The School for Creative Startups launched on July 1 and is 85% backed by City of Westminster council (the other costs will either be covered by other benefactors - Richard is on the scout for sponsors as we speak - or the the start-ups themselves).

Hayman drew the attention of all guests to the glossy brochure distributed at the launch. "On the back page there's a sponsorship form," he said. "It's as classy a whip-round for the economic recovery as I've ever seen."

And with that, the panel debates began. First issue: How to define a creative business. Ed Vaizey took this particular bull by the horns. "The government's definition is very broad," he admited. "It ranges from architecture to films, videogames to fashion and advertising. A lot of the income generated for the economy is attributed to software, for example, but that its technically a creative business."

Next: Andrew Haigh, managing partner of the entrepreneurs division of Coutts bank cut to the chase: "You claim that the School for Creative Startups will churn out 100 successful businesses but are all creative businesses scalable? Surely some are destined to stay small?"

Richard stepped up to the plate: "The scalability of a business is largely in the ambition of the entrepreneur," he said. "Business models are largely malleable. Most creative start-ups are just as scalable as any other start-up."

But is the UK - or more specifically London - the right place to start and grow these start-ups? "London could be the most important capital for start-ups in the world in the next 20 years," said Anglophile Richard. Ed Vaizey, not to be swayed the Californian's relentless optimism, piped up at this point: "I think there is a culture problem here," he said. "There's a gap between the people who have the capital and their understanding of risk and willingness to invest."

Coutts' Haigh responded: "As a nation, we're quite good at limiting our vision. We're happy to sit in artisan mode as a small business. It's hard to teach vision but that's definitely something we must aim to bottle."

Here ends Part One...

Want to hear more from the School for Creative Startups panel? Check out Part Two for more insights on creativity and entrepreneurship in the UK.

Find out more about the School for Creative Startups

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