New business scheme for aspiring creative entrepreneurs

Helena Gaunt, vice principal and director of academic affairs at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, on a new programme that sets up creative people with business and entrepreneurial skills. 

Over the last three years, the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Creative Entrepreneurs scheme has helped its alumni and faculty launch 22 businesses. These social enterprises and start-ups utilise the skills of the performing artists in a variety of ways to develop innovative artistic work, tackle social issues, contribute to the community and generate revenue.

The scheme’s success has revealed a demand for training and support from creative professionals outside the school. It seems that few schemes exist in the UK to help ambitious entrepreneurs from artistic backgrounds develop sustainable businesses. So this year, from September 2016, we’re opening the Creative Entrepreneurs scheme up to a wider audience. We want the scheme to be made available to a wider range of practitioners to help fresh ideas and exciting new businesses to take root.

Performing artists need to develop commercial awareness, the right networks and an entrepreneurial spirit to succeed. Our ambition is to provide a launch pad for some intriguing business ideas and services. With this in mind, we are continuing our work with award-winning social enterprise Cause4 to deliver this intensive 12‐month scheme (September – September). During the course of the year participants have access to an average of 30 hours of tailored mentoring and coaching provided by scheme leaders and a range of external experts, alongside an average of 80 hours of training that includes seminars and workshops on core entrepreneurial management skills.

In addition, central London office space is offered with entrepreneurs entitled to 20 hours of office access. Regular evening talks and networking events take place throughout the programme featuring prominent figures from the entrepreneurial world and creative industries, as well as citywide professional and start-up growth networks. Funding advice and support is provided with an organised pitch event towards the end of the programme offering the opportunity to pitch to select investors and funders.

The success of the Creative Entrepreneurs scheme can be seen in the variety of businesses that have been catalysed by participants. They include: Song in the City, a charity that programmes classical concerts around inventive and challenging themes; Drum Works, a music education programme that confronts disengagement within schools, and is currently reaching over 400 young people every week; Turn of Phrase, a communications skills company that aims to support anyone who speaks publicly, with a key part of the business focused on improving gender equality in the workplace; Docklands Sinfonia, a partner with Hackney Music Hub that looks to expand the Orchestra’s educational work in the East End of London; and Lyribox, an online resource that helps anyone – be they amateur or professional – to learn classical vocal repertoire with digital learning tools.

Francesca Wilding, one of the partners of Turn of Phrase, and a participant in Creative Entrepreneurs, sums up the programme: ‘It was essential in how we honed our product and made it commercially viable,’ she says. ‘When we first started we were trying to do too much, we weren’t being specific enough about our skill-set and what we wanted to achieve. We also learned about how to manage finances, what to say in a business pitch. Most of all, the course gave us the confidence to believe in our product and our own ability. Without it, the self-doubt would have crept in and we wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are now.’

We’re looking to support upwards of 20 new creative businesses each year. Business incubation, for creative professionals, is an essential part of the Guildhall School’s aim to be at the forefront of cultural change in the performing arts. It also will have an impact on our communities and economy.

The Guildhall School is holding an open day on Thursday 21st April to outline the scheme for those interested. It’s just the first step for many entrepreneurs in the performing arts as they begin their journey towards creating a successful, meaningful business.

Applications for the 2016-2017 programme close on 17 June at 5pm. Full information on applications, costs and funding can be found here: