Added to Creative Stoke, 24th May 2012

Added to the Directory: There’s a new free “taking on an employee” five-step toolkit, online now.

Business Initiative has a “Startup Course in Finance & Marketing”, starting in Stoke-on-Trent on 11th June 2012. There are free daytime sessions, and paid-for evening sessions. The venue will be the North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce offices on Festival Park (across the road from the cinema). Full details from: 01782 202222.

“Digital Staffordshire” is the title of a breakfast business event happening on 31st May 2012 (8am-10am) in Stafford.

“The event, organised by the Stoke-on Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), will look to ways we can improve business growth in the ICT and digital sector [with a focus on] collaboration between the public and private sector”

Register via:

The Midlands National Forest is running a Woody Tales Short Story Competition. Prizes include Group Tickets for the National Forest’s Wood Fair. To enter, just…

“spin a woodland yarn for the National Forest Wood Fair’s Woody Tales short story competition. Whether it’s a forest fable or a tall tale about trees,
stories of up to 750 words can be entered [under] two categories, under 15 years and 15 years plus/adult”

Entry is free. Deadline is Friday 29th June 2012. The National Forest is a new forest that intends to cover 200 square miles of the English Midlands, across parts of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire.

Artists, scientists and creatives — with an interest in ancient history, storytelling, conservation, symbology and the changing landscape — are invited to a special out-of-hours candle-lit visit to the Staffordshire Hoard at the Potteries Museum. To be followed by a picnic at a Saxon site in Trentham Gardens. The date is Friday 8th June, 5pm-9pm. Application deadline: 4th June 2012. Only fifteen people will be selected, and a small bursary will be offered to successful applicants. To apply, email 150 words on your current practice, medium or interests, and why you would like to attend. Attach two or three pieces/images of recent relevant works at low resolution, and/or Web links, and send to:

Added to the Directory: Leek’s Literary Connection is a new group meeting at the Foxlowe Art Cafe in Leek town, North Staffordshire.

Added to the Directory: Konnektiv Drama does experimental and physical theatre, and is run by a qualified drama therapist.

Would you like to be the Poet Laureate for Staffordshire? This is a new role open to those who live or study in Staffordshire. The selected poet will hold the position for twelve months from October 2012, and do all the usual promotional activities on behalf of the county. The role is being organised through Staffordshire County Council, Libraries and Arts. Deadline for applications is: 14th July 2012. Full details are here (.doc Word document).

A date for makers, textiles crafters, and scrapbook makers, and indeed just about anyone who needs to stock up on a year’s supply of beautiful beads. The Staffordshire Bead Fair is on 9th September 2012. The venue is the Moat House Hotel on Festival Park, Stoke-on-Trent.

Stoke-on-Trent’s Barewall gallery is calling for artists, ceramicists and designer makers for a pop-up shop in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, on 16th June 2012 — for one week only. Interested? Email:

A new contemporary art exhibition will take place in Spring 2013 featuring selected work by B.A., M.A. and PhD fine art graduates from 2010, 2011 and 2012. New graduates from Staffordshire University will be eligible to apply. To receive application details, email:

Reasheath Agricultural College (Nantwich) has three one-day workshops for flower designers coming up:

* 26th May 2012. Bridal Designs with Flowers. Covers the latest trends and techniques for bridal wedding design with flowers.

* 23rd June 2012. English Garden Arranging. For those designing with traditional English garden flowers.

* 7th July 2012. Introduction to Floristry. Basic principles plus introduction to hand tied, arrangements and wired work for flower designs.

“Writing for Children and Young People” is a one-day workshop for adult authors, happening at Mackworth Library, Derby. The date is 23rd June 2012. To be led by award-winning children’s author Caroline Pitcher. Cost: £25, and booking is essential. Details from:

Cre8Net Event report: “Innovation”. At the Mitchell Youth Theatre and Arts Centre, Stoke-on-Trent. Weds 23rd May 2012.

ON THE EVENING of one of the warmest days of the year so far, a group of Stoke’s creatives met in the stylish new cafe of the newly-refurbished Mitchell in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. The subject of this second Cre8net event was ‘Innovation’.

The main presentation was by Harold Sharples, the Cheshire-based business consultant currently running StartupSuccess. Harold and his partner plan to start and mentor an initial group of five new business in Burslem, in the near future. [ This is in the context of: a low number of startups in the West Midlands region; an even lower number in North Staffordshire; and… “amongst women it is lower in the West Midlands than in virtually all the other regions of the UK” — WMRO, 2009. ]

Harold started by saying that small and medium businesses are vital for UK job growth, and that most new jobs tend to come from a small proportion of all new SMEs — at least according to the official statistics [ it should be noted that the statistics have severe difficulties in recording ‘microbusiness’ activity of any kind in the UK ]. Harold qualified by saying that the collection of data on job creation by small-to-medium firms in the UK is poor, and there is a lack of relevant and recent research on why small businesses succeed or fail. But there is a lot of similarity to the situation in the USA, where there is good open data on startups from the Kauffman Foundation and others. 700,000 U.S. citizens currently say they want to start a business in the next year, but the statistics show that eight out of ten who do start one will fail within five years. [ Age is a strong factor in success in the USA ]. The average UK startup lifetime is just 3.5 years.

More needs to be done to find ways to help people succeed. As much risk as possible needs to be removed from the starting up process. This is especially true of the vital “high growth” business with over 10 staff [ 4,110 small companies are “high growth” in the UK, which is 16% of all small and medium firms. There are 196 “high growth” SMEs known to exist in the West Midlands — Experian report, 2012. ]

Very few researchers have been looking for a replicable ‘success formula’ for new startups, although the Wharton School of Business in the USA has done useful work on the topic. One of the keys to success is to do a lot of pre-start up research and planning to position your business correctly. Planning is something most small business people are not keen on, and almost no-one is properly trained in research. Harold showed a useful grid, from his forthcoming book, which laid out the key factors to be considered when starting a business. He placed special stress on identifying proven mechanisms to retain and scale income, such as a recurring subscriptions on direct debit. Only perhaps 4% of those starting a business have the skills to “do it all” themselves when starting up. Thus “innovation teams” need to be put together, to find the right mix of skills to start a growing and succesful small business. An “innovation team” should be no more than five people of mutually-reinforcing personality types. All five should be starting their own business, while mutually supporting and reinforcing each other.

The room then engaged in a lengthy card-based activity, based on each person sorting five personality traits in order of applicability to them. The room was found to veer strongly toward ‘creative and intuitive’ being the dominant trait. This led into a discussion of the prejudiced and blinkered ways that different personality types see each other. Larger businesses and organisations can be especially prone to placing different kinds of people in “silos”, and breaking down the resulting entrenched tribal animosities can then be very difficult. Yet many marriages happen across different personality types. Picking the five people for a business startup “innovation team” is thus best done by having a complementary mix of the different personality types.

The room then broke off for excellent Welsh pies, strawberries, drinks, and cigarettes.

On resuming, the panel discussion then consisted of: Harold Sharples; John Hudson of Staffordshire University; the founder of Craegmoor Healthcare; and Lisa Wilding of 6towns Radio.

John Hudson is interested in design decision making in the printing industries, in relation to the environmentalist agenda and graphic design. Especially in how sustainability can be pushed via innovations in the higher education curriculum and in educational delivery.

The founder of Craegmoor Healthcare gave a long account of the lessons learned in his time setting up a successful pottery business in the 1970s and 1980s. He took his ceramics designs outside the Potteries — to Walsall, Stratford-upon-Avon, Birmingham — and intensively market-tested them with real households to find which had the most appeal, leaving the peices in people’s homes rather than just doing a one-hour ‘visit and show’. He could not have done this testing locally, because Stoke-on-Trent people didn’t then properly value the ceramics the city made. He took the idea of studio pottery and applied mass production techniques, something no-else wanted to do at the time. He actively marketed the resulting product to the Women’s Institutes across the UK, loss-leading on his factory and gallery tours. From this audience he was able to spin out a networked Tupperware-style agent sales operation among women, using the catchline “Earn while your children sleep”. He expanded hugely, and moved factories three times, growing the business by always being customer led. He increased prices slowly but regularly, testing what the market would bear. He found the sales actually increased when prices went up, and finally managed to increase his prices by a factor of six. The early 1980s recession sadly put paid to the business — but he moved into property, and he now heads a firm specialising in providing effective care and homes for mentally disabled people — an organisation that now has 30 homes, an independent college, and over 400 people employed. He has started a media production base within the college, giving mentally disabled people a real voice.

Mark Webster of Staffordshire University asked a question from the floor, about leadership styles and their importance. Harold Sharples suggested that the role of the leader was especially important in the staff induction process, in setting a standard for staff and management, and in knowing your workforce and being open to their ideas. Other panel members suggested that you need to trust people who know their job better than you do, and help to empower them. [ Management training is also needed, to improve the often dire quality of management in the UK ].

Cath Ralph of the Burslem School of Art announced an offer of a free £300-worth of services and space at the School, and distributed application forms for this kind offer.

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