News and Views

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Peter Scott:
It is with great sadness that we record the death of our dear colleague and friend, Peter Scott. Peter died last Autumn after a short, courageously fought battle with an aggressive cancer. As one of the founders of Whetstone, Peter was an inspiring presence over our first ten years. His central role in the development of our enterprise support activity is honoured in the formalisation of that side of our business, now led by John Sanderson and Christoph Sander. We miss him deeply but his spirit lives on in Whetstone.

Christoph Sander and Johnny Martin:
We are pleased to have been joined by two new colleagues, Christoph Sander and Johnny Martin. Christoph and Johnny have extensive experience in industry, both at the quoted, large-scale end as well as in early stage ventures. Christoph is now chairing Whetstone Enterprise Support. For further details take a look at Who we are


We are delighted to be working with associates BOP Consulting, leading specialists in culture and the creative industries, on a review of the film sector in Scotland. This work has been commissioned by Creative Scotland – the national development agency for the arts, screen and creative industries – who are reviewing each of their sectors to inform strategy and policy development.  BOP are the leading UK impact economists for the cultural and creative sectors with whom we worked on the Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s plans.  These sectors have a lot to offer to regeneration initiatives, although they can struggle to break even themselves.

New businesses
We have become shareholders in Channelflip Media, an online broadcaster. Its model involves features we like that reflect the realities of the web and should make it very competitive as more brand budgets are allocated to online exposures – very low cost production, top talent and reach involving distribution of its video material to sites already popular with the target demographics. Rather than having to spend money on bringing audiences to you, why not take your programmes to where the audiences are already comfortable online?

Following our involvement with Channelflip, described above, we are struck by the well-publicised difficulties of many of the older and larger media businesses – ITV, Channel 4 and the regional newspaper companies are examples. The challengers are new model businesses, often with cost bases that would be hard to imagine and still harder to arrive at within an established operation.

Channelflip has an enormous reach – some 18 million unique users per month at a recent count – among 18-30 men through the websites onto which it serves its content. The whole business to date has required a good deal less investment capital than the amount of voluntary salary reduction taken by the CEO of Channel 4 alone during 2009. One moral is that disruptive business models are likely to be discontinuous with older ones – which suggests that older ones should be much braver earlier, as well as more prepared to experiment with what they have got. After all their assets are able to be an enviable launchpad for the new. Take one example – ITV had AskJeeves (now but let it go with huge loss of subsequent value to its shareholders…

V&A at Dundee: The project reflects our view very well – indeed it helped to form it – that cultural and creative enterprises can think commercially to good effect and expect to contribute a lot of value-added to their local economies.  Commercial creativity – our keyword – is tailor-made for their types of opportunity.

We are delighted that the proposal that we helped to develop has now moved from planning through gaining key approvals – most notably from the Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise – to the early stages of execution, with funding momentum boosted by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant.  Following the concept and feasibility study, Whetstone was  involved in planning the detail of the content of the new institution. One interesting feature is the intention to re-visit the original rationale of the V&A, which was to celebrate the meeting of design and manufacturing as evidenced in the Great Exhibition of 1851. That is what stimulated Henry Cole to found the V&A in the first place – as a celebration showcase not a museum.

Looking at the shape of the V&A at Dundee project, it is about a town that lost its economic purpose almost a hundred years ago – spinning jute, the world’s first international packaging material, and hunting whales (the jute was soaked in whale oil to make it manageable) with fund management not quite replacing these two in later times despite early market leadership (Robert Fleming’s father managed a jute factory and as the world’s first investment manager, he placed the jute magnates’ money in US railway bonds.)

The Dundee City Council has gathered the V&A, Scottish Enterprise and the two Dundee universities (Dundee and Abertay) together, and thought to build on the two strong design cards in the City’s hand – Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design and Abertay’s top European computer games design course.  They are imaginatively using the new cultural institution as an engine for regeneration.  They are also giving it a wider economic purpose as a showcase for the commercial value of design thinking.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council Design Hub in Dundee: Dundee University led the Scottish design schools in winning a 4 year project, currently in progress, to enable the academic study of innovation exemplified by marrying design thinking with the resolution of challenges and opportunities in Scotland’s strategic industries including food and drink, the rural economy and medicine.  Paul Askew is a member of the Steering Committee of this project and Whetstone is engaged with it to help build the ideas that emerge into enterprises.

The Design Business Association: Reflecting our thrust with Johnny Martin Business Education’s courses at the British Library to seek out (and teach) enterprise in the cultural, creative and digital sectors (see About us), John Sanderson has become an ‘Expert’ with the DBA who have over 400 design businesses as members.  We believe that the design sector sees many many new commercial enterprise opportunities and leaves them on the side of the plate through lack of business development expertise.  We look forward to seeing whether our belief is right and whether we can help.

Enterprise Support: We were delighted that Shine Media (part of the Murdoch media empire) acquired ChannelFlip Media which we has helped to fund in its development round, introducing its chairman Tom Barnicoat, a previous COO of Endemol, and the Creative Capital Fund, a London Development Agency fund reflecting the gap in institutional funding for creative sector start-ups.  The founders of ChannelFlip adapted the original model of the business to become YouTube’s largest network channel operator at the time of the sale and the company is now running over 150 channels as an MCN (multi-channel network) with some 100m views per month.

Observations: Commercial creativity, our keyword, seems to us a timely coinage.

It applies clearly to the cultural and creative sectors with the new Arts Council of England chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette urging entrepreneurial thinking to be introduced.  It applies to the job market, with 40,000 new businesses alone begun in June 2013 according to Start-up Britain.  It may apply to libraries, with over 20,000 new businesses researched a year at the British Library’s Businesses and IP Centre, which is now being licensed to six of the largest regional libraries with the implication that libraries have a future as enterprise hubs.

In our own case it applies to charities, with Whetstone Enterprise Support helping to build a publishing business on which Mindful Policy Group will be perched.  And it applies to local authorities, in our case with Westminster City Council, where Soho Create is the third occasion on which the Economic Development Office has acted as entrepreneur in starting up a new business with third party funding and an independent board, with a view to taking an opportunity that will help the borough’s businesses to grow.

Johnny Martin’s business, which is about creating support materials for start-ups in the area of numbers for entrepreneurs and licensing them into virtual learning environments or within their own, will, we hope, enable us to teach and embed enterprise (and employability) across the creative and creative education sectors.