Kadja Manninen and Dr Chris Carter awarded with Best Paper in Creative Industries Entrepreneurship

Kadja Manninen and Dr Chris Carter awarded with Best Paper in Creative Industries Entrepreneurship

PhD candidate Kadja Manninen (2018 cohort) and CDT alum Dr Chris Carter have been awarded with “Best Paper in Creative Industries Entrepreneurship” at the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ISBE) Conference 2023.

The University of Aston in Birmingham hosted the 2023 ISBE Conference from November 8–10. Sustainable Growth in Unexpected Places was the theme for 2023.

The annual conference brings together academia, businesses, entrepreneurs, and policymakers to explore the most recent research on small businesses, entrepreneurship and innovation.

Kadja and Chris’ submitted paper:

“Case Darkfield: Digital Transformation in a Small Performing Arts Enterprise”


Topic: This paper investigates the sustainable growth of Darkfield, an award-winning small performing arts enterprise (PAE) specialising in immersive theatre productions. The study focuses on the organisation’s significant digital transformation during the global Covid-19 pandemic, which led to the creation of Darkfield Radio, a series of binaural, at-home, audio experiences. This digital pivot allowed Darkfield to expand their reach beyond physical venues, engage international online audiences, and contributed to Darkfield’s international audience growth, brand strengthening, and the formation of cross-sector partnerships, ultimately improving the sustainability of the firm’s business model. 


Applicability to the conference theme: The digital era has ushered in rapid technological advancements, creating a new business environment characterised by Digital Darwinism (Schiuma et al., 2022), where organisations embracing digitalisation tend to thrive. PAEs, however, have been slow to adopt digital technologies, primarily due to concerns about capturing the essence of live performances and heavy reliance on public funding. The Covid-19 pandemic forced PAEs to explore digital avenues, resulting in innovative digital programming. Whilst these initiatives improved accessibility, they struggled to replace the income generated from live events. This paper presents a rare case of a PAE, Darkfield, who achieved sustainable growth through digitalisation, generating economic, cultural, and social value.  


Aims: The core aim of this paper is to gain insights into how PAEs can achieve sustainable growth and value creation through digitalisation, even without prior digital entrepreneurship experience. The research employs a microfoundational dynamic capabilities perspective (Teece, 2007; 2018) to examine how individual and team-level capabilities within PAEs evolve during the digital transformation of their business model.  


Methodology: The research adopts an illustrative multimethod, single case study approach. Data included semi-structured interviews with the Darkfield team, information from social media and digital platforms, small-scale surveys, and observational data.  


Contribution: This study’s primary contribution lies in its empirical examination of Darkfield, a performing arts enterprise, as it ventured into digital entrepreneurship during the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic pushed Darkfield to embrace digitalisation, marking a transformation from offline to online operations. This necessitated innovation, resulting in hybrid digital business models and sustainable growth across cultural, economic, and social dimensions. Additionally, the research underscores the role of the Covid-19 pandemic as an External Enabler of entrepreneurship in the context of PAEs (Davidsson et al., 2021), and highlights Darkfield’s heightened dynamic capabilities during the pandemic, particularly in sensing, seizing, and transforming processes (Teece, 2007). 


Implications for policy and practice: This study’s findings emphasise the importance of supporting small PAEs in digital entrepreneurship. Policymakers can utilise insights into digital business models and dynamic capabilities to foster sustainability in performing arts, along with addressing funding constraints, notably for SMEs. Practitioners can benefit from understanding digital entrepreneurship opportunities and challenges in the creative industries, as highlighted by Darkfield’s pandemic-driven transformation. 

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