Interview by Simon Bland
With Creative Enterprise: Evolve returning with a new cohort of creatives, we chat with the latest addition to our mentoring team, Kieran Battles, to pick his brains about the state of the sector…
What big changes have you seen impact the creative industries in recent years?
I think when you remove loneliness, craziness and the world from the equation, then COVID showed us that creativity can be sparked by anything. I recently watched the band Bring Me The Horizon at Glastonbury festival on TV and they have a song called “Parasite Eve.” If you’ve not heard it, stick it on your headphones and crank it up. That’s a product of COVID, so as far as I can tell, we’re still going strong. I’m not being dismissive about the pandemic or anything like that but it’s shown us all that nothing can contain creativity.
What’s the most exciting creative industry innovation that you’ve seen recently?
In the creative space, I think it has got to be the fusion of creativity and technology because the impact is endless. I recently worked with a company that was looking at gaming and how it can impact mental health and well-being, and they got a million-pound investment off the back of it. They’re doing some additional work now with Oxford University to look further into how gaming can help people with mental health issues, so I really don’t think there’s an arena that this can’t touch. If you combine creativity with technology, you can really increase the reach into people’s lives.
How important do you think it is for investors to support emerging creative businesses?
I think it’s key. If you look at the sector’s contribution to the GDP of our country and our economy, we’re a heavyweight. It’s the same when you look at the number of Oscars, Emmy’s, Video Music Awards and BAFTA’s that we win – we’re a powerhouse in terms of creativity, and what Creative UK do is foster and encourage that. The challenge with the Evolve programme is that some of these businesses don’t fit a typical model. The world wants ‘Software to service,’ as it’s typically very investable but with the creative industries, you could be getting the next Sam Mendes out of these programmes.
It’s not just about creating a network of investors either. If you look at the statistics, for every pound of venture capital money invested in London, something like 90% of it goes to all-white, male-founder teams. The very fact that Creative UK is doing Female Founders and focusing on people who are typically overlooked for no good reason means they’re widening the talent pool. If you’re a white, middle-aged, middle-class man, then you’re probably alright but if you’re a young, black woman from an inner-city school in London, then statistically you’re screwed – but the team at Creative UK are doing something about that.
What do creative industry innovators need to know when starting their businesses?
Well, there’s a spiritual answer to that question and then there’s the realistic answer. The spiritual answer is: ‘is your concept or idea going to change the world?’ Meanwhile, the realistic answer is: ‘is it going to make investors money?’ If it’s not, then it’s not a business, it’s a vocation. You might as well go and get charity status. However, on the Evolve programme, the whole idea is that the companies taking part are working on something that’s going to change the world and make a load of money – and it can do that in a way that doesn’t have to be ruthless and horrible – it can be profitable with purpose and more and more often, that’s the case. There’s a younger generation that sees the importance beyond profit but if you’re going to start something, you kind of need to go with the Steve Jobs dictum of: ‘is it going to put a dent in the universe?’ If it’s not, then you’ve really got to question why you want to do it and why anyone would care. It all goes back to answering that all-important question: ‘So what?’
Where do you see the creative industries going – what’s exciting you about the future?
The world is awash with money. Obviously, there’s a cost of living crisis – but in terms of venture capital, private equity and money markets – more than ever, the world is awash with cash. What it is not awash with is brilliant ideas. There are lots and lots of dollars, pounds and Euros chasing very few brilliant ideas and concepts, so if the creativity industry can’t come up with brilliant ideas, then it needs to change its name. Inherent to the very fact that it is the ‘creative industries’ means that if an idea’s great, there’s money to fund it, scale it and make it ubiquitous. To me, that’s very exciting. It’s just connecting two, which brings us beautifully back to Creative UK and why it exists.