For the latest interview in my Side Project Stories collection I’ve turned to a former colleague of mine from my days running the Basecamp student start-up accelerator at the University of Bristol. Sam worked with me about four years ago as a graduate helping students get their business ideas started. He started his own journey with Create Hub at the same time and we caught up to see how it had evolved.
The first idea that Sam had was to start a web platform for artists and creatives to share their portfolios online; in fact, my first meeting with Sam as a then Masters student was probably to discuss that very concept, which was then going by the name of Young Creatives. By the end of his year-long contract at Basecamp Sam was taking his ideas in a whole new direction, under the name ‘Create Hub’.
Sam’s initial passion for arts and culture had been joined by an interest in technology and creatives using tech. Sam identifies the point at which his curiosity was really triggered was when he encountered the Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol and started following their REACT projects.
“I really got interested in that world; I liked that area of business; creative people working with technology for creativity’s sake.”
Interested sparked, this is where Create Hub’s new journey took off: “I didn’t want to lose that interest, but I couldn’t find other stuff like REACT. So, I built a site to collate it for myself and navigate it for others.”
Create Hub as a listing of creative projects and a few blogs written by Sam was born in 2013.
Parallel Paths Forward
Sam’s interest in creative start-ups took him to graduate jobs at Cockpit Arts and NESTA after leaving Bristol. However, Sam was still working on Create Hub at the time, self-coding the website and collecting and collating more projects. Having settled on positioning Create Hub at the interface of arts, culture, and technology Sam successfully pitched this as interesting niche for a business and won some money to develop the website further.
“Winning some money really helped me take confidence in the project and step it up to something more serious. I also started getting approaches from people wanting to write and contribute which also encouraged me. The site’s focus also shifted towards cultural organisations rather than creative individuals because they were willing and able to write as part of their day jobs.”
Create Hub was and remains primarily a passion project: “It doesn’t make money; there is some ad revenue but not enough to cover costs. There is some potential for arts funding but income is not the point.”
Create Hub has been a way for Sam to indulge and share his interest in creative technology, arts and culture. Along the way he has learnt and developed a whole range of skills including writing, coding, and editing.
“I use it to do the things I’d be too worried to do in my professional job.”
Side Project turns Stepping Stone
Sam has also used this side project to make the surprising career move to jump from Cockpit Arts to IBM; “I was interested in creative people using tech, but I had no grounding in tech… so I joined IBM.”
Sam believes the experience of running Create Hub was instrumental in getting the job at IBM; proving his tech interest, initiative, coding skill, and project management skills.
Sam’s role at IBM involves him coordinating designers and developers to create new websites, software, and agile processes for big corporate clients. He describes it as IBM’s “internal design agency”.
Sam sees IBM as a stepping stone, he is more than ever interested in positioning himself between the worlds of arts and technology. He is now a trustee at Cockpit Arts and is hosting a first networking event at IBM for artists using technology. Whilst he’s organising the event in his spare time he finds himself increasingly sharing his side project with his professional colleagues and gaining in confidence that he can mix these worlds.
Developing the Hub
At the same time Create Hub is not sitting still. The listing and blogging has continued to grow, he’s run events and has now launched a new podcast. Along the way Sam has worked with a series of collaborators – both regular volunteer editors and semi-regular contributors (including myself).
Sam sees collaboration as vital to developing the site and remains evangelical about showcasing the role of technology in the arts. He is relaxed about the creative vision for the site though and has encouraged his collaborators to be creative themselves. They too have used their voluntary work on the site to develop their own careers as well.
When he has had support, working with his volunteer editors helps him dedicate weekly time to the site; when he’s left to his own devices the site tends to receive more irregular binges of work. Collaboration can drive discipline too it appears!
Sam’s side project is a passion project, a means to develop and hone his professional skills, and a stepping stone to his future career. The Side Project needn’t be the thing that evolves – it may simply be a means to develop the self.