BLOG: No, really, why are you asking me that? The Brighton Fuse company survey Part II

Last week we talked about some of the effort that goes into crafting a good business survey.   The Fuse survey asks you to provide data on your business’ turnover, operating profit and employees. As an important note: we will of course treat these data as confidential – and you don’t have to respond to any questions that you don’t feel comfortable about answering.

That in mind: why are we being so nosy? There are important reasons, with the two main ones being:

1. Many Brighton Creative and Digital companies are small, which means their financial data aren’t available from Companies House. However, without this financial data, we can’t really estimate the economic contribution that the CDIT sector makes to Brighton economy, an important aim of the project.

 2.  Without financial data, it also becomes very difficult to measure the correlation between company behaviours and characteristics, and their performance. Some surveys use self-reported measures as an alternative indicator of business performance (“How well do you do against your competitors”), but that kind of data is ridden with biases . We would like to do better than that, but we’ll need your help for that.

Today – four more questions then from the Brighton Fuse survey to give you more background on why we’re interested in such a range of things about your work.

Why did you set up your business in Brighton, and not somewhere else? This is pretty straightforward – we’re looking at which factors make Brighton an appealing place to start a digital business and what if anything can be done to support those factors. Georgina has been conducting interviews with members of the Brighton digital community since January and has been asking this question and getting a lot of different responses – good place to live, existing web community to tap into, near to London (but not actually London) – and we’d like to see how those answers break down by company size or age, or against other factors.

What engagement did your business have with Brighton and Sussex Universities last year? The first Fuse deliverable was a short report by Juan Mateos-Garcia and Jon Sapsed at the end of last year, which described how Universities can help catalyze and support Creative Clusters . One of the key findings of the study was a non-finding – most of the evidence we have about engagement between universities and creative clusters is anecdotal, or based on case studies that universities themselves produce so it’s usually worth taking those with a pinch of salt.

We wanted to use the Brighton Fuse to really start quantifying how do local universities engage with creative and digital businesses – if at all. Do they supply talented graduates? What about research collaborations and facilities? Ongoing surveys such as BIS’ Community Innovation Survey suggest that UK businesses rarely collaborate with universities, or use them as a source of information for innovation – but we have also heard civil servant say that those companies that do engage with universities tend to be high growth. How does this pan out in Brighton? Are Brighton and Sussex Universities acting as a source of competitive advantage for local companies – and if mutually beneficial relationships aren’t already in place, how can we facilitate them?

How much does your business ‘help out’ other businesses in Brighton? There are many different types of capital – financial capital, cultural capital, knowledge capital – each of which affects how a business performs. The material from Georgina’s interview data suggests that Brighton’s digital community  has a healthy stock of ‘social capital’. This could mean that Brighton firms are able to ‘punch above their weight’ – in a community of mutual support, even small companies can find talented people to work with, equipment to borrow, and advice about how to do things better. They probably spend less on lawyers too, because they trust each other (an economist would say that ‘transaction costs are lower’ in the cluster). But again, we’d like to test this hypothesis out with all the added information that a survey can bring to see whether there’s a difference in performance between firms that help each other out and those that don’t.

How often do you go to networking events and meet-ups in Brighton? This is another question about social capital and social networks in Brighton. Like it says on the tin, networking events can be a great way of sparking those initial connections with people, developing the trust and understanding needed to generate social capital in the city. Meet-ups, and other nights in the pub, might also act as the ‘nodes’ for the larger community social network in the city, where people from different companies  - even different sectors – get to share information with each other in a way that might not be possible in a larger city which is more difficult to get around.

What do you think? Hopefully those of you who are company founders will have already answered these questions in the survey, but we’re really interested in anything else you have to add here!

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