Michael Gandham, one of three founders of Arcus Animation Studios, explains how one ‘hit and hope’ email, and the support of Northstar Ventures, helped transform their business.
What did you do before you started this business?
I did lots of other things before starting the business. Like many youthful types I indulged my passion in music by starting a band and building a recording studio. We had a few releases through independent publishers, had some tracks released in South America and we also toured Germany. After realising this wasn’t going to keep me in food and shelter I changed track, took a job managing a pub and then trained in visual media. All of these experiences have really helped in the running of Arcus.
What inspired you to start up?
What inspired me to start up … It was a mix of necessity and passion. When my son was a few weeks old I was approached by one of my co-founders, a very talented animator who wanted to set up a studio. I knew from previous experience that this endeavour would only work if there was someone willing to do the organisational, management and strategy stuff, so I accepted and took on that role.
The North East loses too many talented people (whether they’re native or have moved to the region to study) and I was seeing people move away because of a lack of work in the area. I wanted to see if I could help build something that in the long term would offer work and an incentive for these talented people to stay in the region. We’re now growing and retaining people and are part of a similarly growing creative industry here so I hope that things can continue to move forward.
Tell us about your business in 100 words
Arcus Studios is a multi-award winning Animation Company. Respected nationally by the industry we are 2017 RTS award winners in Excellence in Animation and Excellence in Digital Innovation. We’re regarded as one of, if not the premier 2D specialists in the North of England.
In our year of incorporation (2010), Arcus consolidated our relationship with CBBC through repeat commissions for two short cartoon series, as well as producing prime-time work for E4.
Arcus is now the bench-mark supplier for Macmillan Publishing; we have a glowing reputation with BBC Learning and produce video suites for the Chinese and Spanish children’s markets.
How would you describe your business to your grandma?
We make cartoons!
Where do you get advice, support or help?
We were very lucky when we started up to become part of Teesside University’s Digital City Fellowship Scheme. As part of the scheme I was mentored by Marc De Launay, a writer, director and producer in film, theatre and TV (he’s got all shiny awards and stuff!)
Marc came on board with us as a co-director early on. His advice and knowledge of the creative industry has been invaluable as we’ve grown. And it’s been amazing to have been able to continue to develop my own creative practice by making the most of Marc’s advice and tutoring in writing for screen.
Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?
The Digital City scheme gave us 6 months of ‘survival money’ (it really was just enough to survive) while we got our plans in place.
Towards the end of the six months something quite lucky happened. I sent a ‘hit and hope’ e-mail to the then head of CBBC acquisitions. I happened to be visiting family in London when I checked my e-mails and saw a response asking if I was available to pop in for a chat. Of-course I was! From that our first contract came to fruition. That sizeable contract with a high-profile client allowed us to invest in new capital and gave us greater appeal when tendering for other contracts.
Three or four years later we felt that we needed to expand and change to remain competitive. This is where Northstar Ventures came in. With an investment from them we’ve managed to grow from a team of five to thirteen and we’re continuing to grow.