Evolve Investor Ambassador: Makerversity’s Fiona Dent

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Led by Creative England in partnership with the BFI and UKBAAEvolve is a programme designed to build a connected ecosystem of investors in the UK’s innovative media and entertainment sectors. As part of Evolve, we are highlighting leading industry investors to help provide a bit of insight into what it looks like to invest in screen-based businesses. We sat down with Fiona Dent, CEO of Makerversity, to discuss the opportunities for investors in the creative industries.

“Creative people redefine our world and they’re pioneers. They don’t take anything for granted. They deconstruct the environment around us and put it back together again in new and better ways.”

Fiona is CEO of Makerversity, the creative-tech incubator, a member of the investor network 24Haymarket and a serial angel investor. Before moving into investment, Fiona was Group Managing Director and a Board member of Time Inc. (UK), the leading cross-platform publisher, home to famous media brands such as Wallpaper* and Marie Claire. She has deep experience working in the creative and digital media markets across multiple sectors and played a pivotal role developing Time Inc.(UK)’s growth and transformation strategy. Fiona partnered with a number of start-ups to develop new business models which provided her with insight into early stage investing. She graduated with a Fine Art degree and worked as a fashion photographer for 2 years before joining the media industry.

Discussing her unusual career path and her first foray into angel investing, Fiona explains:

“It’s entirely possible for a Fine Art graduate, to become a business leader and Board member, to be a qualified Non-Exec, to be an angel investor. Having a diverse perspective enables you to see the value in innovative, creative businesses. I started angel investing because I was running, amongst many other media brands, the Interior Design portfolio for Time Inc. (UK). I partnered with a start-up business called Clippings.com, a disruptive B2B
e-commerce and logistics service for the interior design trade. Its inspirational co-Founder Adel Zakout persuaded me make my first angel investment. Interior design was sector I knew very well, I knew it was ripe for disruption and I knew Adel was the right person to do it. Often investing is about amazing Founders, even ahead of the market opportunity itself.”

Fiona believes there’s a lot of opportunity in the creative industries for investors as creatives naturally are always looking for ways to do things better. She says:

“Creative people redefine our world and they’re pioneers. They don’t take anything for granted. They deconstruct the environment around us and put it back together again in new and better ways. Creative people applying their skills to looking at the future, I personally find really exciting. How that manifests itself is in a wide variety of different approaches. What you see is an overlap of creativity, technology and science, brought together in completely unexpected, original solutions. That’s what excites me about this sector.”

There is hesitation from investors when it comes to investing in creative industries. Some of this is to do with a lack of knowledge of the sector:

“The perception of creativity has very much been about physical, organic growth companies, whilst investors have focused very heavily on the high-growth Tech sector for the last 25 years. In many regards, that’s not surprising. Capital can go further at an early stage and investments can potentially deliver substantial returns. Tech investments have tended to be globally scalable, so Tech has been an obvious place for people to put their money. It has been less well understood how creativity can be applied to SaaS, games, e-commerce or materials innovation to create valuable new businesses. Quite simply, people have defaulted to sectors which seem easier and have not necessarily interrogated the fresh approach creative innovators bring.”

Fiona is keen to highlight that creative pioneers deepened their success in the e-commerce sector during the pandemic. Expanding further she comments :

“Lots of creative pioneers have turned their innovations to really great effect through the pandemic. The creative start-ups I am involved with in interior design and art collecting accelerated their businesses in 2020, leveraging their existing e-commerce and storytelling capabilities to ever greater heights. A SaaS business helping publishers power e-commerce revenues from editorial content enjoyed its best year ever. There’s a variety of different virtual pioneers worked on new apps to enhance and support people’s health and well-being during the pandemic and games to educate and entertain are developed by
creative-tech teams.”

When looking at potential investments, Fiona has a few key factors that she considers but the most important factor is the Founders.

“You really have to get on with the Founders. There must be mutual understanding, the ability to have good exchange and dialogue. The best Founders are open, to feedback from customers, the market, investors and responsive to that feedback. My least successful investments have tended to be with teams who are not curious to learn from feedback. Great Founders have a strong vision for their company and a deep knowledge and passion for the problem they are trying to solve. Energy, ambition and resilience are also key as there are usually many twists and turns along the way.”

As to why investors should consider the creative industries, Fiona enthuses:

“Investing in the creative industries, I think particularly in the UK, is incredibly exciting. We are home to the number one and number two art colleges in the world – the Royal College of Art and the University of Arts London and we have a tradition of creativity, which is the strongest in the world. Why that becomes even more interesting is we have Europe’s number one start-up ecosystem and we are the number one for technology innovation in Europe. If you fuse these factors together, this creates some really pioneering businesses. (At Makerversity) we’ve seen some major success stories, where you juxtapose creative practitioners together with technologists. These fusion teams have tackled everything from waste in fashion to climate change for tropical farmers and the cultural codes of autonomous vehicles, all via SaaS. Others are pioneering new sustainable materials to reduce impact on the planet or inventing connected Board games or wellbeing apps. It is the future being written in front of your eyes every day – and exciting innovation that investors are backing.”

Find out more about investing in the creative industries by joining our investor community.