Alain Heureux: If you only put fashion designers together, you will get great clothes, but you will never disrupt the industry

Creative entrepreneur, CEO at Brussels Creative and founder at Creative Ring (Belgium), on how to build a creative ecosystem that brings together projects and specialists throughout Europe.

About the work in Ukraine

I traveled to Ukraine three times for Unit City and CreaPro's workshops. Moreover, when I discovered the ambition of Unit City to build huge tech and innovation hub, I decided to bring some people from the team to Brussels. In a region of Brussels, we have one very similar project. It is the size of a Unit City (30 hectares), but it's already 80% deployed, while Unit City is only 20% deployed. So they can see how far they can grow. Four people from the Unit City came to Brussels for four days. In this days I organized for them several face-to-face meetings with the representatives of several projects, and I think this gave them a lot of knowledge and inspiration.

About the 'Creative Ring'

We try to connect different European countries: the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Ukraine, and Poland. We are trying to teach representatives of those countries to collaborate.

We can see today that in many European cities similar projects are taking place, mostly funded by private investors. Very successful business people decide to reinvest part of their money (sometimes in cooperation with the public) to create places where entrepreneurs can meet, collaborate, and find entire ecosystems with mentors, coaches, funders. And I'm sure such projects would succeed in Kyiv, I don't see why they wouldn't.

If we connect different places in Europe, we can help each other to scale. It is always a difficulty that we have in Europe: to scale our ideas like they do in the US or China. We have language barriers, we have the administrative burden, tax burden etc. It is challenging, but the more we connect places like this, more chances we have to find a solution.

In Brussels, I created one of the first incubation centers, 'The Egg', for people and startups acting in the creative industries. It was an entire revitalization of an old building, revitalization of the area. It became very inclusive of the local population. It was an adventure, a long journey, took me 10 years to set it up. As an entrepreneur, I've learned a lot out of that.

And one day with my colleagues from neighboring countries we thought of building a network of similar buildings, and communities all over Europe. That's when we started to dream about a Creative Ring.

We started to work on the ecosystem beyond the building because Brussels can't just be one place. I started to investigate, to use technologies. Today, people, communities, and project, that we have identified in Brussels are developing and innovating this region.

Same happened in Eindhoven, Vienna, and Aarhus. They have their own ecosystems, mapped to interconnect and identify who could be connected with whom.

Eventually, we decided to go to more cities and create a broader European network. We are not in a hurry to grow fast. I'd rather go slow. My dream is 20-25 cities, deeply interconnected.

I hope next year Kyiv could join our ring. I want this city to do a useful exercise. To ask the following questions. Who are the stakeholders? Where are they located? Who is doing what?

We believe in the power, the rule and the future of regions and cities. So we are often talking about the city level of the ecosystem. It's not always the main city or the capital, we are not focusing on Paris, London, Berlin or Amsterdam in our network. We have a network of creative cities, in which we animate and identify the creative ecosystem.

Within the network, I always prefer to find cities with similar DNA, similar vibration. In France we have Rennes, not Paris. In the Netherlands it is Eindhoven, not Amsterdam. In Romania, we work with Cluj, not Bucharest. However, we are in contact with Kyiv, because we think it would be the right match for our creative ring. It has nice initiatives, good creative communities, and people. In your neighborhood we also negotiate with Gdansk, Vienna, and Prague. In each country we try to identify the right city or region, and also to find the right ambassador.

About the creative ecosystems

In our ecosystems, we often include what we call in Europe the multiple helices. It means, that in an ideal world you include in your ecosystem not only business people but also politicians, public institutions, universities. An example of such collaboration are citizens’ platform. Ones where citizens organize themselves. I know, it started to happen in Kyiv recently too.

So we include them as well in our ecosystem. Creative ecosystem a very broad definition that includes many different stakeholders.

If you only put architects together, it's boring. You will never get to disruptive innovation. If you put an architect with a game developer, a fashion designer, a civil servant, and a researcher, you eventually can come to disruption. We believe in what we call crossover innovations or disruptive innovations, that only work when you put people of very diverse backgrounds together.

If you only put fashion designers together, you will get great clothes, but you will never disrupt the industry.

About marketing in the creative industries

I think people have been screaming and announcing a full death of traditional media and marketing for 10 years already. However, I see more and more how traditional media and marketing techniques are being adapted to the new world. The world where we have much more touch points than in the past. Presently, we have a multiplication of touch points and communication techniques. We have a confrontation between new technology generation and old traditional generation. It makes things for many companies much more complicated.

It is also challenging that many monopolistic gatekeepers like Google are keeping all the data, control media and advertising revenues. This makes it challenging for all of us in both the Eastern and the Western worlds. 10-15 gatekeepers that are controlling the innovation, and the value. How we can still develop marketing and communication practices in this new world? Totally new generation of people is out there, plus some big players are controlling the value chain.

About the old and the new

Although I don't believe in the complete death of the traditional media, if you give me one Euro and you ask me to invest it, I will not invest it in the paper media. I would rather see my money flourishing somewhere else.

However, sometimes you see funny things. Like in the era of digital music you see vinyl coming back. Art paper books are now fashionable.

Interesting hybrid models of the old and the new start to happen nowadays. For example, Zalando clothing brand, more and more faces an enormous logistic problem, because many customers are sending back 80% of what they ordered. Which means the logistic costs are just exploding.

As the solution some boutiques and stores started to propose to them to get stuff delivered to their stores, to let customers try it there. That helps to cut the logistics cost for Zalando and helps the boutiques to sell their additional stuff. So this is kind of a hybrid model that has a chance to live.

We need to look for solutions like that in other spheres that would satisfy different groups of customers.

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