A Sharp Intake of Breadth
The Sharp Project’s uptake of new tenants has had a little spike of late, with five arriving since mid-June. The list demonstrates the magnificent diversity the project is attracting.
Erecting their flat-packs are designamos inventid, mirth conduits Gag Reflex, fingertip fanatics TouchSoft, fourthdimensionsmiths Mighty Giant and knower of finances Sedulo. We caught up with them and talked about their businesses and asked why The Sharp Project was such an attractive option.
The process of getting an idea from lightbulb moment to lightbulbs in shops can look daunting when you’re an individual without a clue. But even large businesses with big ideas can suffer from stagnation or knowledge gaps. In both cases the expertise of Inventid helps the process, introducing technical or legal help or simply bringing a heaping helping of inspiration.
The company, consisting of Bryn Morgan and Henry James, specialises in both product design and the communications required to get the products to market (such as visual, design, packaging and marketing). Naturally there’s a good deal of interlacing between the disciplines; for example the visual appearance and packaging will both contribute to the success of the product. Everything they do is with efficiency and sustainability in mind, however, and this comes from strongly held ecological beliefs as much as economic considerations.
As far as helping out first-time inventors is concerned, Inventid often have to deal with people who are wary of telling anyone about their design for fear of it being “borrowed”. However, by introducing rigid non-disclosure agreements and other legal mechanisms to protect the inventor, Inventid can help get the ball rolling (and they plan to involve Sharp Project tenants and IP lawyers Ward Hadaway more). Household name companies don’t have this fear, but often get bogged down by routine and circular thinking, and will draft Inventid in to bring some new ideas, backed up by their understanding of what’s possible.
Bryn and Henry had both crammed plenty of valuable experience into their careers before forming the company, and with Bryn hailing from Cumbria and Henry London, Manchester seemed like the right place. London is already overbrimming with designers of their ilk,and Manchester, with its industrial roots, appealed greatly. Once they discovered The Sharp Project their minds were made up. They’re in a single container at the moment, but judging by their trajectory, they’ll soon outgrow it.
Gag Reflex is a comedy management agency that has its roots in the Frog & Bucket comedy club. Lee Martin was the manager of the club, and the agency was a subsidiary, but the two amicably split so that Lee could pursue the agency, and was later joined by Dave Young and Anna Cooke. The agency produces tours and does programming for comics from the North West mainly, but also have international acts on their books. They’ll be spending most of August in Edinburgh for the Fringe, “the Cannes of Laughter” as nobody calls it.
Like all proper agencies, Gag Reflex has until now been run from Lee’s spare bedroom. But growth and ambition were starting to bang on the ceiling, so they decided to look for space. The Sharp Project was the first of several spaces Lee looked at, but he just knew this was the right place to be. He is planning to start creating apps for the agency’s acts, and there are plenty of candidates here already. Second, his comedians are often also writers, contributing to sitcoms and links, and they’ll be looking for opportunities to collaborate with the TV productions that use The Sharp Project.
Touch screens are not exactly new; the technology has been around since the 1960s and has been used in some commercial applications from the 1980s onwards, but it is within the past five years or so that they have become ubiquitous, mainly thanks to the success of smartphones and tablets.
Detectives among us will already be noting that TouchSoft must be a company that makes software for touch screen devices. But the company is also taking strides into the invisible realm of the natural user interface (NUI), a concept that allows humans to use software without having to learn it – that is, the idea that software should feel like actions we’re already used to in our everyday lives. If you’ve used a Kinect with an Xbox, you’ll understand the concept a little more clearly, but developments in the field are quite astonishing, and TouchSoft are going to grab a piece of the action. Then chuck it into a machine gun nest and hit the deck.
For the moment, however, TouchSoft are continuing what they’ve been doing since they formed this year, namely designing apps for smartphones and tablets. They’ve specialised in quizzes, gambling simulators, sports games and children’s games, dealing with the concept, functionality and programming while using outside sources or stock images for the graphics. Founders Richard Wylie and Gary Kennedy have 30 years’ experience between them dating back to the days of Psion organisers, the smartphones of their day (if you ignore the “phone” bit). Sharp Project members, tenants and guests will soon be treated to an intriguing and entertaining realisation of one of their NUI ideas in the window of their Campus-facing unit. Lunchtimes may never be the same again.
TV programme makers will often outsource their graphics work – just look at the credits of almost any show and you’ll probably see that the animations, titles and credits themselves were not made by the programme’s own makers. One of the rising stars in this field is Mighty Giant, the design and motion studio that has recently taken up residence in one of our containers.
The company was founded by Jonny Ashworth, who used his experience from his time at the BBC in London to get a kick-start with his business after a stint at a design agency. Rather than work from his bedroom, Jonny hired a desk at an agency in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, but it soon became clear that he was going to need more space and possibly more staff as work flooded in from the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV. He stumbled upon The Sharp Project when he sat next to our manager Rose Marley at an awards ceremony and she told him about what was going on here … and that a container had just become available. He snapped it up. He loves the interaction with other tenants, which he puts down largely to the open-fronted units, as well as the fact that they are all kindred spirits.
Jonny now runs the company full-time and has a part-timer working with him, but he’s on the waiting list for a double container as they’re so busy. He’s currently working on two CBBC shows and has recently been working with some international airlines. Look out for the name – it’ll probably be scrolling past your eyes at some point.
Founded in 2005, chartered accountancy firm Sedulo now employ 16 staff in their offices on Deansgate, Manchester. They specialise in accountancy for media, online and tech clients, be they individuals, start-ups or multinationals. They work with charities and TV, marketing, social media, games and hosting companies as well as individual actors. They are also experts at fundraising in the traditional sense as well as crowd funding.
Managing director Paul Cheetham-Karcz first found out about The Sharp Project through AppLearn, one of our tenants, but it was a meeting with Sue Woodward about getting Canadian grants for UK companies setting up there, that persuaded him to take some space here. It seemed like the perfect opportunity – a whole building full of exactly the sort of people they work with.
Sedulo are still in the process of moving in, and are planning on having a rotating system whereby accountants with different specialisms have a day of the week allocated to them, so tenants and members can arrange a time to pop in and talk business. Paul has always liked the more informal style of doing business in what can be seen as a starchy industry, and compares the company ethos with that of a marketing company: professionalism and hard work minus the distracting shackles of conformity.
Paul is a patron of the charity Once Upon a Smile, and organises events such as celebrity football matches to raise money. He’s determined to wring the maximum social benefit out being an accountant to media names, and couldn’t be in a better place.