About Nesta

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.

Setting up and running a successful creative hub

I could happily talk about hubs for hours! I set up the Studio at Loughborough University seven years ago and have helped three other universities establish hubs to support students and graduates. For the past five years, I have worked internationally to help other countries understand and establish hubs, creative communities and the support around them.

In essence, my drive for setting up a hub is to help others achieve their dream in creating sustainable and economically viable businesses that they are passionate about. How to do this really depends on the audience we want to support and how we want to support them.

What can a hub look like?

Some hubs are sector specific, some are a physical space only, some give development and guidance, and some go all out and get involved in the businesses they are working with. None of these are the right or wrong way of providing that hub environment, instead it is the creation and drive that will make them a success.

The Studio is cross sector - open to any business from any industry. This creates a strong dynamic in the conversations that members have with each other and the way they look at business. The difficulty is trying to be a point of expertise in all areas, for all forms of business, in any given industry. Challenging to say the least, but really rewarding to see how members support each other and are interested in what each other is doing. This model also works really well for collaborations and initial customer finding for members as they exist, so to speak, on tap within the hub itself.

I am now in the process of working on another hub. This one is creative specific, but we have retained the open format which means we will support any business that ‘fits’ into one of nine creative sectors: advertising and marketing; architecture; crafts; design (e.g. product, graphic and fashion); film, TV, video, radio and photography; IT, software and computer services; publishing; museums, galleries and libraries; and music, performing and visual arts. The aim is to keep the mix of businesses broad but to drive one economic area. Sounds good, right?

The challenges

This open model does come with its own challenges. Each of these businesses want a slightly different environment, need some specialist areas of training and support, and the range of knowledge required to support them all is vast. We are in the process of adapting development programmes, trying to figure out if we can create the right ‘feel’ for the physical space that works for all and is not just a white box, and working out what the coffee consumption will be.

The business model we are using is a Community Interest Company as it fits the aims and vision of our business. We want to support others to succeed, not to profit from them. This has pros and cons. Accessing funding to develop our business in a time when grants are hard to come by and investors want a return can be frustrating. On the flip side, because we are doing this for a community, we have great buy in from the people we are aiming to support, knowing that when we launch we will be near capacity.

Business models and tools

Once you know why you are setting up a hub, you need to think about the business model. There are many tools you can access to help develop this, such as the business model canvas which guides you through your proposition and quantify what you are trying to achieve.

On the finance side, think about:

  • The amount of space you have, how many people you can fit into that space and what you can/need to charge per member.
  • The services you are offering, how you will provide them, what the cost is, whether you’ll charge for them and, if so, how much?
  • The insurances, tech and business rates (if relevant in your country).
  • You also need to consider the staff you will need to run the space and deliver the support. Think about the internal structure - who makes the strategic decisions, the management of the space, organisation and delivery of events, comms and marketing. All these jobs need doing but every person adds cost to the business.

And once you have all of this in place, you need to select the right company formation that works well with the model you have used to develop your hub: Community Interest Company, cooperative, limited or partnership (every country has slightly different types of business formation so go to your local business development agency for advice). This will also dictate what you can and cannot do with your business and how you have to run it, so make sure you take time to understand each of these before you register.

A really useful tool in the early days of planning was The Coworking Handbook. This helped us to consider financials, models, space and more and I still go back to it regularly (now filled with sticky notes) to check we are on track.

Nesta’s Creative Enterprise Toolkit helped the board members come together in developing our vision. When I use it to help others, I can hand on heart say it is a valuable set of tools to use in the development and running of your business.

Last words

Again, there is no right or wrong model but be honest with yourself and with those you are working with about the aims and reasons for starting a creative hub.

I know of one example that was set up as a cooperative, giving members the right to vote on how it was run. The members all wanted lower rent. This created a cash flow issue and meant that the hub had difficulty providing the support it was set up to deliver. The people that started that have since gone on to set up a limited company providing space for artists at a commercial rate - and they are already at capacity so are expanding.

I think this is part of the exciting process because you have the opportunity to develop the hub how you want, working with the people that you want to support. Talk openly about what you want to achieve and accept help and support from those that offer it. One thing I do know is that you cannot do this alone - but you can do it. Good luck!


Megan Powell Vreeswijk

Megan Powell Vreeswijk is a Creative Enterprise Programme Workshop Associate, based in the UK.