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Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Launching the Digital Arts and Culture Accelerator

Arts Council England and Nesta are excited to announce the start of a Digital Arts and Culture Accelerator. This is a pilot programme to explore whether a tech accelerator model can transfer into the arts and cultural sector, to support innovative new ideas from organisations that do not ordinarily take on commercial or social investment. Nine organisations previously backed through the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts will make up the cohort for this pilot, which starts on 10 May and will run through to September.

Background to the pilot

Since the launch of Y-Combinator in 2005, there has been an explosion in startup business accelerators across both the USA and Europe. In the UK, research by O2, showed an increase of 110% in the in number of accelerator and incubator programmes from 2012-2014. These programmes, characterised by a small cohort of project teams that undertake a rapid programme of business support to create investment-readiness, have spawned a number of companies that have returned a high margin for investors.

The focus of current accelerator models is almost exclusively on startups emerging from the tech sector. There have been a few accelerator programmes in the field of social enterprises (such as the Nesta-backed Bethnal Green Ventures), however as The New Art of Finance has outlined:

“While there are accelerator–type initiatives for creative industry businesses in the UK – such as the ACE–backed MeWe programme23 – there isn’t currently an accelerator for the arts in the UK, despite the fact they seem to be working well in other areas”

One of the major reasons for this is that driving a commercial return is simply not the primary mission of arts and cultural organisations. Their goal is to deliver social and artistic value, rather than generate profits or provide a viable investment opportunity. The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts has proven, though, that organisations in this sector have the potential to come up with original and exciting ideas for products and services that could be commercially developed.

However, the arts organisations that have led this work say they would need new skills and knowledge to be able to attract investment for their projects. An accelerator model could help them gain such skills, and support them to move away from an organisational mind-set that characteristically sees financial opportunities as being limited to a mix of earned income, grant funding and philanthropy.

In addition to providing support to a pioneering cohort of arts organisations, Arts Council England and Nesta will be watching with interest the reaction of the investment community to the programme. We think investors will be looking for opportunities beyond existing fields, such as fin-tech and ed-tech and, the accelerator programme – which will culminate in a live event at which the nine projects will pitch to carefully targeted investors – will allow us to test this assumption.

The Accelerator Network, which has a deep track record of accelerating technology startups, has been chosen deliver a 12-week intensive programme for arts organisations looking to scale their digital product or service. 

The programme is based on an established accelerator model, but with some modifications to reflect the cohort of participants and the particular challenges they face. Primarily:

  • Participants are not company founders but are representatives of established arts businesses. 
  • They are not profit-seeking startups and they have a core operation that may or may not be closely aligned with the new digital product.

Other differences from a conventional accelerator are that the programme will not require the participants to co-locate, and the Accelerator Network does not hold an equity stake in the organisations coming onto the programme.

As the pilot progresses we will continue to post reflections on what we and the project participants have learned and will be looking for signs of whether the model may be transferable to the arts and culture more broadly.

Projects within the portfolio

Following an application process open to all organisations who had received awards from the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts, Arts Council England and Nesta have invited the following nine organisations to join the programme:

Abandon Normal Devices (AND)

Project Daedalus researched how arts organisations could use drones (UAVs) to create rich audience experiences for the arts concentrating on:

  1. the use of 360 degree video using drones
  2. affordable outdoor tracking and control systems.

AND now wants to develop a high quality production studio, creating content for 360 environments and screens of the future. Named, Studio Normal, this would act as a commercial arm to the current AND business.

Circus Starr

Show and Tell is an award-winning mobile iOS app that uses an interactive visual story designed to encourage children with autism to attend and have fun at a live arts event.

Circus Starr would like to develop the Show and Tell app for use across Android and iOS devices so that can be licensed and re-purposed for other uses, including family attractions and entertainment venues.

Comma Press 

MacGuffin is a digital self-publishing platform for fiction, poetry and essays in text and audio form. Authors upload the text and an mp3 recording of their work for users to read, stream, tag and share.

They want now to adapt MacGuffin into Spittah, a platform to support spoken-word poetry workshops in schools.


Neo-Ticketing trialled three dynamic pricing models at The Firestation Centre for Arts & Culture, testing how audiences responded to being offered tickets at different price points.

The Firestation is now developing a cloud based holistic digital box office solution - working name VeeGee - encompassing a full suite of sales, retail and resource management tools for arts and entertainment venues.


Leicester Castle Tells Its Story used iBeacons to create engaging, low cost tours designed to appeal to different visitors, from casual family groups through to individuals with a keen interest in heritage.

The aim is to continue to develop beacon activated high quality creative trails and tours for heritage sites and museums.

Ministry of Stories

The Story Engine is an online platform to support creative writing through the dialogue between learners and mentors operating remotely.

Ministry of Stories now wants to develop an online writing and/or mentoring platform.

Miracle Theatre

Live & Digital explored digital capture and distribution of small-scale theatre, and started to develop a business model to increase audience reach and earned income.

They want to secure investment to create a portfolio of digital productions for wider distribution, selected from their planned artistic programme.

National Holocaust Centre & Museum

Interact recreates a Holocaust survivor telling his story, and enables an audience to question him directly about his experience. The survivor’s life-size 3D projected image uses advanced speech recognition technology to interpret and answer visitors’ specific questions preserving the powerful experience of interacting with a Holocaust survivor.

They want to provide a service to the wider arts and heritage market, using the same technology to produce interactive ‘stories’ involving key individuals such as artists or politicians.

Orphans of the Storm

Electricomics enables users to make interactive digital comics, or to read them via an iOS app, or OS neutral desktop reader.

The next phase is to create an Android version of the app, and optimise both iOS and Android tablet apps for phones. They also want to make creation of content easier and faster. Ultimately, they would create an account-based marketplace, which would enable creators to sell, buy, and promote their content.


Sam Mitchell

Sam Mitchell

Sam Mitchell

Programme Manager, Digital Arts & Media

Sam Mitchell was a Programme Manager in the Digital Arts & Media team at Nesta

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Anna Dinnen

Anna Dinnen

Anna Dinnen

Senior Programme Manager

Anna was part of the Digital Arts and Media team and was responsible for the delivery of the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts on behalf of the partner organisations Arts Council England a…

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Paul Glinkowski

Paul is Senior Manager for Arts & Technology at Arts Council England.