Interview: Neil Cocker on creative communities

Wales’s flourishing and growing tech industry is being aided by creative communities that are bringing people together and contributing to economic prosperity.

Cardiff Start, which was founded by entrepreneur Neil Cocker in 2012, is one of the country’s largest creative communities – with over 2,000 followers on Twitter and 1,000 members on Facebook.

It’s rock-solid track record has seen it raise over £1 million for some of Cardiff’s fastest-growing start-ups and take a group of Welsh entrepreneurs to meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace in London.

We speak to Neil to find out the benefits of creative communities, how they’re sustained and how they’re made successful.

TD: How are creative communities like Cardiff Start supporting entrepreneurs and start-ups?

NC: Every community is different, and supports its members in different ways. But Cardiff Start is completely volunteer-run, and the majority of the work it does is to either bring people together for mutual support and knowledge-sharing, or to act as a visible point of density and activity to demonstrate that Cardiff is a brilliant place to start and grow a tech business.

TD: How are they beneficial to the economy and the tech industry?

NC: Whether it’s through helping startups raise investment by introducing them to investors, or through providing business development skills that are unique to the needs of tech startups, we believe Cardiff Start is helping grow quicker, smarter, leaner startups that are in turn creating jobs and wealth, as well as more effective entrepreneurs who will hopefully take what they’ve learned and repeat it with multiple businesses over the next few decades.

TD: What makes a successful creative community, in your opinion?

NC: People. Without good people who are willing to collaborate, share knowledge, and be “doers”, there is no such thing as a community. Every group of humans (whether that’s in local community, online community, or business community) needs that relatively small percentage of people who are willing to stick their hand up and offer to help out.

TD: How are they sustained?

NC: In Cardiff Start’s case, purely and simply through the goodwill and efforts of its board and members. We receive some funding from Cardiff Council, Cardiff University, Cardiff Met Uni, and Fujitsu RunMyProcess to cover the costs of our free workshops. But otherwise it relies on the belief of those that founded it that Cardiff is a brilliant city, and the startups here should have access to the best knowledge, and smart support.

TD: How do they evolve and grow?

NC: If there’s a need, and people are benefiting from being involved, then communities will grow organically. It’s the job of the community organisers to keep listening to what it is that the community wants and, even more importantly, support any independent initiatives that spring up. Attempting to keep ownership of everything that happens is a sure way to kill off a community.

What’s next for Cardiff Start?

NC: We’re very much at a crossroads. As our board and interim CEO (me, for clarity!) are increasingly pulled into our own startups, so have diminishing time to support the community. So we’re looking for supporters and sponsors to help us continue to make Cardiff the fastest growing startup community in the UK.

We plan to employ at least one fulltime member of staff that will spend every working minute pushing Cardiff to be the best it can be. For more information, people can read more about what we’ve achieved so far, and how they can get involved in supporting us.