Experience: Creative Connections Createathon

In September, Creative Fuse North East launched its Creative Connections Programme with its first round of “Createathon” events at Newcastle University Business School. This is just one of many opportunities for businesses to get involved and receive support from Creative Fuse.

Split into two intensive days of workshopping and presentation, the Createathons are designed to provide entrepreneurs in creative businesses with the chance to work alongside Masters level students to use innovative tools and develop their business strategies.

We caught up with Mandy Barker, Creative Director at Sail Creative, to get an insider perspective of Creative Connections, and of her experience in running a creative enterprise in the North East.

Q: So, we hear a lot from various business support programmes about developing an Innovation Strategy with SMEs – how did the Createathon help you do this in practical terms?

A: The Createathon had a strong focus on reflection, giving people the chance to reflect on their business and talk through current challenges and opportunities. On day one, I worked with post-MA students Donny and Jade to give an overview of Sail Creative, and we spent a full day really narrowing down focus for the business. On day two, the following week, we had Pecha Kucha style presentations of our business action plans, delivered by the students – with the chance to talk these through and network with other businesses in the programme.

Q: Taking two days out of the office can be a big ask for small businesses, what were the benefits of taking this time for Sail Creative?

A: I looked at the Createathon as a time to spend two full days on the business, not away from it! It gave me the opportunity to run ideas and challenges past the business students and get feedback, helping to refine my vision for Sail. We used a process similar to the one I use with clients to clarify their business direction and market opportunities. It was really refreshing to be able to turn that lens on my own business, and is not something I’d consciously done before in this structured way.

Jade and Donny listened, and gave valuable insights and knowledge throughout. They then went away to work on an action plan for me, presented in the Pecha Kucha format. The most innovative and concise presentation won £200, which is a great incentive for the students. Jade did an outstanding and creative presentation on Sail, and deservedly won the prize!

The Createathon gave me the opportunity to meet some exciting businesses that are also trying to challenge the status quo, including a forest school, and Chalk – a family-oriented cultural events organisation. It was refreshing to be around like-minded people, and it’s great to know that support networks are available for those doing innovative, creative work.

Q: Speaking of networks, that leads me on nicely to the ultimate feedback-form question: would you recommend a Creative Connections Createathon to a friend?

A: It was an excellent collaboration that I really recommend to other businesses, getting an objective viewpoint from knowledgeable students was invaluable, and I got to set some tangible goals for the future. Definitely something to go for when the dates for the next round are announced.

Q: Creative Fuse North East spent most of last year squirreled away doing our mapping exercise of the Creative, Digital and IT sector in the region – and we’re always keen to hear the views of businesses working within this area. Why did you choose the North East as the location for Sail Creative?

A: I was keen to be part of a city that has an up and coming design, creative and digital scene. Leeds and Manchester are already very well developed in these sectors, and although they are exceptional cities, I feel they are at risk of losing their “hearts” amongst redevelopment and trying to be too cosmopolitan. Newcastle is undergoing exciting developments, but it’s still a city true to its roots. The people that live and work here are the things that make it great, as well as being an affordable place to live and work, with great access to the beach!

It’s big enough to find quality work, but small enough to maintain a community of collaborators, with some exceptional creative talent here. The thing about this industry is that you aren’t limited by location – I’m currently working with clients in the North East, London and Yorkshire.

Q: What would you say are the main barriers for the creative sector in the region?

A: I’m worried that larger organisations may be put off working with start-ups in favour of more traditional or established agencies. However, it’s up to us to inform potential clients of the benefits of working with smaller businesses: we have lower overheads, fresh creative ideas, flexible working, a wealth of creative talent, and massive amounts of dedication.

It can also be disappointing when local work gets outsourced to other regions, and when graduates/talent leave to work in other cities. I do however fell that organisations and the city are doing their utmost to promote the benefits of the region, and can feel that this is changing.

Q: Absolutely, it’s this kind of passion that makes the North East a great place to be. Keeping with this optimistic theme, where do you think the main opportunities lie for the sector?

A: There are a lot of start-ups appearing, which is great – I’m always looking for potential collaborations with people who share the same values. The business landscape is changing in this way I think. It’s no longer a dog-eat-dog scene, it’s about collaboration for the best results. I’m very passionate about this.

The North East has some fantastic opportunities, Newcastle has lots of events where start-ups are supported, building connections with people going through the same challenges. You’ve just got to get out there and say hello!

Attending Newcastle Start Up Week opened up some great opportunities, and put me in touch with like-minded entrepreneurs. In October, I started Entrepreneurial Spark – a national programme run by NatWest, supporting business growth. There’s also a great article by Paul Lancaster about opportunities in the region. Organisations like Digital Union, Design Event North East, and Creative Fuse (of course) have great events programmes with great speakers. It’s definitely an exciting time to be part of the city’s start up scene.

The Creative Connections Team at Creative Fuse will be running future rounds of the Createathon Events (dates to be confirmed). You can be the first to hear about these upcoming opportunities by signing up to our opportunities database. To read more about the North East CDIT Sector, including barriers and opportunities for growth, check out the Creative Fuse North East Initial Report.

The Creative Connections programme is available due to support from the European Regional Development Fund.

Download as PDF| Report this press release


An independent design studio passionate about arts, culture and positive social change. We use facilitated workshops and design thinking to give our clients competitive advantage, enabling them to engage and emotionally connect with people. We immerse ourselves into each project to understand what drives and inspires our clients, enabling us to deliver meaningful work that has impact.

More from

Advice on self employment

29 Sep 2017 09:30

Virgin Start up of the Week

18 Sep 2017 09:30