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The growth of creative and technology industries in Bristol and the South West has been an economic success story of recent years, driving job creation, inward investment and a range of exciting new technologies into the market. Issues around socio-economic inequality and diversity remain, but the overall progress of the sectors has been celebrated both locally and nationally, as detailed in the recent Tech Nation Report 2020 and by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
At the heart of this growth has been the emergence of communities of startups and creative ventures within new flexible workspaces, incubators and accelerators. Small businesses now have a range of places to work on low risk terms. And income from the spaces has gone back into programmes of direct support, mentoring and access to resources to accelerate growth, such as in our own SETsquared Bristol.
The clustering effect has also enabled a thriving calendar of meetups and networking events which facilitate collaboration and sharing of experience beyond what any single programme could achieve. This has facilitated engagement with a greater range of investors and partners in larger organisations who then help stimulate further growth.
That’s the good news.
Unfortunately, many of the factors that allowed these communities to grow in the first place are now causing them to be under severe threat due to the financial impact of coronavirus. Specifically, these small companies are falling through the gaps of government support measures providing relief to so much of the broader economy.
Engine Shed has been working with other city partner organisations to highlight this issue, along with peers from creative and technology sector bodies around the country and a call for support has been issued. Please sign if you are a business affected.
And the future?
How we offer support to our creative, digital and technology businesses will evolve as we come out the other side of this crisis. We are all learning how to be more effective in delivery of digital content and bringing together people through online platforms. Our own SETsquared team have transitioned to delivering mentoring, workshops and community meetups virtually. Although the digital divide is still a major issue to be overcome, this experience should allow us to broaden and expand support to businesses and communities who were not previously reachable.
I also believe that the nature and focus of support for growth will transform to rebuild an economy which is better than the one that came before. I recently spoke about the growth in enterprises with broader societal values at their core and our excitement at the B Corp movement placing sustainability at the heart of business enterprise. With our traditional assumptions around how economies work changing, the value of community is coming to the fore and now is the time for real change.
This evolution will only happen, however, if enough of the current ecosystem survives the next few months to help drive the transformation and pave the way for new growth. For this, we need a change in the government support measures to extend help to the small creative, technology businesses and the network of providers that they rely on.
From our side, you’ll be hearing much more from Engine Shed and our great city partners soon on building a vision for recovery which is based on a better, sustainable and more balanced economy.
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