St'art: when economy and creation meet

22.11.2015 - Dries Tack

St’art is a venture-capital investment fund for creative, art, digital, design and fashion businesses. Set up by the Walloon Region and the Wallonia-Brussels Federation in 2009, and up and running since 2010, it is a vital economic partner of creation in the region. Its director, Virginia Civrais gives us a brief outline. 

Virginia Civrais, you head up this investment fund for the creative sector. What is your own background?

I graduated from the Ecole du Louvre. I was probably destined to be a curator and did effectively go on to work in various positions in the cultural sector, until the launch of St'art in 2009.

Was it a deliberate choice to appoint someone with a cultural background to head up the fund?

Yes, very much so. This is an original model. Culture and creativity are immaterial. It is an atypical environment, we are dealing with something that is far removed from the industrial economy. It is important to have a comprehensive approach to these particular products, not have your eyes riveted on spreadsheets. But if I am, of course, supported by a team of accountants and financiers.

St'art: when economy and creation meet

How did the fund see the light of day?

According to several studies, many companies came outside the scope of the existing subsidies. Between the big names, the venues, the festivals that receive state subsidies and more niche projects that make use of micro-credit, interesting projects were faced with serious funding problems. Unless they put their house up as collateral, when they start out, a young designer who turns to a bank has no security to offer. That is why this sector investment fund was developed, earmarked for these particular businesses.

In practical terms, what is your role?

To apply leverage within the private sector. When we validate a need expressed by a business, it is estimated that 50% of what it needs will come from the fund, and 50% will come from the private sector, in the form of capital or debt. This is what we set out to do: get the private sector to give a helping hand to these rather special creative sectors. To help them to get to know them better, we also organise meetings between the two.

So you are not only involved in project financing?

No. Beyond these meetings between the creators and the private sector, we also train accountants and financiers in these specific areas. We have produced a guide to help creative companies to highlight their assets, present them as selling points

St'art: when economy and creation meet

So, in a way, you translate the needs of the creative world for the economic world?

It's exactly that. We try to pinpoint the strengths of a company, what it has not necessarily been able to demonstrate, its creative potential, to bring them to the attention of private-sector companies. We put a value on the intangible dimension of these companies. We decode them to help them fit the mould. More than put on a value on it, we effectively translate it into the language of the private sector.

How do the meetings with the companies that contact the fund take place in practice?

Either we are interested in the companies and we get in touch with them. Or they are interested in us, and approach us. We meet in person. The human factor is essential. Obviously, the project is also essential, the way it needs to fit into the goals of the investment strategy – is it new, complementary to what already exists, etc. But we look above all at the team. The project leader. Because a project leader that has what it takes, and above all, knows who to work with, is essential. We have already seen fantastic proposals come to nothing because of the lack of rigour of the project leader.

What is the quality you are looking for in these project holders?

They must have the knack of working with the right people. We like to see them working hand in hand with a manager AND a sales person. The truth is that many lovers of art, excellent creators, unfortunately have no idea how to sell their product.