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Creative England Future Leaders list revealed

An agency that creates beer from clouds and a production company focusing on disabled talent are among the ten businesses to have been named in Creative England’s Future Leaders list, picked from the CE50, which is published today.

The companies were chosen by a panel of creative industry judges including Emily Forbes, founder and CEO of Seenit, a crowdsourcing video platform (whose company was named in the list last year), actor, writer and director Simon Bird, who played Will Mackenzie in the Inbetweeners, MediaCom UK CEO Josh Krichefski, AO.com group brand director Andrew KirkCaldy and Noirin Carmody, founder and COO at Revolution Software, for their services to creativity and innovation.

104 Films, a production company and training provider, is one of the companies to have made the list. Based in Sheffield, the business was borne out of founders Alex Usborne and Justin Edgar’s interest in representing experiences of disability on screen. They first worked together on a film that “tanked spectacularly’, according to Usborne, before parting ways to work on respective projects.

However, they worked together again when Edgar, who is diagnosed as hard of hearing, told Usborne about a short film he’d been working on called Special People, which focused on four teenagers who use wheelchairs. The film played around 100 festivals and won numerous prizes and, subsequently,the pair worked together to make a feature length version. They have since co-produced Bafta-nominated Notes on Blindness. The documentary is based on audio recordings by theologian John Hull and recounts the experience of losing his sight.

Other projects 104 Films have worked on include Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, the Bafta-nominated biopic of Ian Dury; I am Breathing, a documentary about a man in the final months of his life with motor neurone disease and Unrest, a documentary inspired by its director’s experience of ME.

More recently, it has been working on Dawn of the Dark Fox, a comedy feature film from an autistic director.

Another business named on the Future Leaders list is Anstream, which will provide a platform for its customers to stream video games on mobile, PC, consoles and set-top boxes when it launches this year. It has been dubbed a Spotify for gaming. The business, which was started by a group of people in the gaming industry, positions itself as the Spotify of gaming. .

Creative England nominated Anstream both because of its innovative model and as it will provide a platform for games publishers from the past 40 years to monetise their creations.

Looking for a new way into a well-trodden industry was also the founding principle behind Strange Thoughts, another name on the Future Leaders list. The media agency was launched by Seth Jackson, who has been founding and working in businesses in the media and tech world since 1999 and recognised a need for a fresh approach.

Jackson says: “There were all of these innovation departments springing up in agencies. I have a fundamental belief that you can’t produce innovation in a room, in a vacuum. You need different people, in different spaces and you need to share ideas.”

With this in mind, he launched Strange Thoughts in Bristol in 2013. Jackson says that, four years in, his business is still really at startup stage. However, it has caught the attention of big brands with its left-field campaigns. Strange Thoughts comes up with ideas by seeking a broad range of expertise. Jackson refers to this as Radical Collaboration: “That is taking a brand brief and putting it in front of all sorts of different people – scientists, academics, artists, choreographers, inventors, creative technologists.”



Strange Thoughts’ cloud harvester, which it came up with for its client Innis and Gunn. Photograph: Strange Thoughts

Using this technique, Jackson and his team have come up with inventive promotional projects for customers such as cloud harvesting with the distilled water used to make a specific type of beer. The ideas Strange Thoughts comes up with tend to be for one-off projects and are used to gather press or customer attention. However, one idea, Landmrk, a platform that allows advertisers to target content to consumers based on location, has become a business in itself.

Judge Emily Forbes says of Strange Thoughts: “What we saw was their resilience to get up and get going, and reevaluate the company at every moment.”

The other names in the Future Leaders list include Camille Gatin, a film producer whose credits include The Girl With All The Gifts and Shadow Dancer; Evidential, which provides services and solutions for the criminal justice, civil and commercial sectors; Hammerhead VR, a virtual reality and immersive content studio; Lucid Games, an independent studio developing games and apps; Paw Print games, an independent game developer; Unrival, a strategic marketing agency and William Oldroyd, a film and theatre director whose first feature film was Lady MacBeth.

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