The findings identified a new category of business, referred to as ‘superfused’. Superfused firms are continuously innovating business models, services, and products and fusing technology, the arts, humanities, and design with creative, digital, and IT skills. These companies show double-digit rates of growth in turnover and employment, despite the recession.
Supporting superfused business
The report radically challenged conventional wisdom about the importance of arts and humanities to the creative and digital economy and points to a future business model that could be further developed nationwide. It also suggested that government intervention to support small and medium enterprise in this sector might be better targeted at the later stages of cluster development, giving it time to establish and provide support once its growth needs have been identified.
Entrepreneurial key players
Findings showed that the entrepreneurial key players are just as likely to have an arts and humanities (A&H) background as science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM). They network frequently, place great emphasis on creativity and collaboration and bring an A&H skillset that enables them to succeed at problem solving, innovating, and adding value in the creative digital economy.
Policy relevance and implications for education and skills
The fusion of arts, humanities and technology knowledge and skills is producing high-growth, superfused businesses that are leading the expansion of the creative economy. However, there is a constraint on the development of interdisciplinary talent. We came to the following conclusions.
- Arts and humanities skills are helping drive economic growth, and should not just be seen as a luxury supported by science, technology, engineering and maths.
- Interdisciplinary skills are key to the continued growth of the creative digital economy. Higher Education (HE) funders should review the extent to which systems supporting education discourage interdisciplinary work and keep digital and creative skills in silos. Deep disciplinary expertise needs to be balanced with the ability to draw on expertise across disciplines.
- To address the ‘fused’ skills shortage, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) should work with small firms to articulate their demands for skills and training and communicate these to HE and FE institutions. The higher education system needs to be more innovative in its course design and models to meet the needs and support the continuous upgrading of skills of the CDIT sector.
- Innovation policy needs to reflect the fact that the UK is predominantly a service economy, where innovation is driven by design, process innovations, software-intensive new service offerings, and softer organisational and marketing changes.
What policymakers and LEPs can do to influence growth in existing SMEs
Although difficult to create artificial clusters from scratch, evidence suggested that once up and running bottom-up policy initiatives can provide effective support in removing constraints.
- Policy makers and LEPs should consider policy interventions to improve infrastructure, address barriers, improve co-ordination and investment, poor labour and commercial markets. Even in our digital age, the advantages to local organisations working at a variety of scales and in close proximity remain significant.
- A diverse ecosystem of private firms, together with public sector and university involvement, can assist in reusing and diffusing knowledge within a local context – particularly if independent ‘brokers’ (such as Wired Sussex) are able to assist in co-ordination to generate mutual economic benefits and champion a cluster’s sense of identity and brand to regional and international audiences.
- Innovation is a process of creating value, but firms and local regions also need to be able to capture value in order to prosper and survive.
- Innovation policies should address the relatively low emphasis given to value capture compared to value creation.
- How firms capture value is a key part of their business model. A significant number of superfused firms engage in all modes of innovation, including staff training, new products and services, new processes, content for copyright, new code, and new business models. Policymakers have a key opportunity to address this to support the continued high growth of the UK’s digital creative economy.
The project has successfully revealed some surprising and informative insights that advance our understanding of the processes of collective innovation in a modern, dynamic industrial cluster.