Case study

Sergio Lopez says his company, Big Bang Lab, creates new value from the old and "creates new connections across people beyond time and space". A quick glance at Sergio’s achievements reveals that Big Bang Lab is clearly making waves. spoke to Sergio about his entrepreneurial journey and asked him to tell us more about his company’s innovative services.

The initial genesis of the Big Bang Lab idea came in 2004 when Sergio participated in the Sustainable Enterprise Academy (SEA), a business development programme for creative entrepreneurs. This was a pilot project run by Creative Lewisham Agency with support from the Chambers of Commerce.

“The idea we came up with was Borderline, a multicultural classical music ensemble to promote new music for traditional instruments across the cultures represented in London.  The purpose was to use it as a tool for social inclusion across the Boroughs, create new audiences and offer an opportunity for career development for young composers, musicians and creating new audiences.”

From Borderline, Big Bang Lab was born. The innovative company works in three key areas: consultancy, production and learning.

“Through the consultancy we help organisations to increase the level of engagement with their users, staff and external stakeholders as well as helping them to use the internal knowledge, archives and heritage to increase social, commercial and branding awareness for the present and the future. We work with specific niche markets each one with different needs.”

We help organisations to measure and value their social impact in order to find new entrepreneurial opportunities to generate income

Sergio added: “We also help organisations to measure and value their social impact in order to find new entrepreneurial opportunities to generate income using what they already have and support them to create new income generating streams.”

With regard to production, the company produces music for silent films to promote screen heritage as well as mash up film and digital silent films in forms of DVDs or live performance through special events.

Their training and informal learning services for communities  are looking for interdisciplinary ways of using media, new music production and oral history with the purpose of connecting communities with their environment and with others for advocacy, capacity building and civic activism purposes.

One of the company’s latest offerings is a research and consultancy service called ‘Shared Voices.’

“Shared Voices uses crowdsourcing video production for evaluation, fundraising, communication, marketing, fundraising and stakeholder engagement purposes. The value lies on the process as it involves creative participation from staff and new ways of constantly evaluating and promoting services. Our focus is on genuine information. Marketing doesn't work top down, so the videos we produce have a genuine and honest feel, and people engage and share them via social media. People buy from people!”

With such a diverse group of customers with widely differing needs, and such a broad range of potential projects, Sergio always ensures his company takes sufficient steps to understand clients needs.

“Wherever we design programmes we involve the final user in the design process. Even before we start we have testers, focus groups, lots of conversations with the stakeholders’ organisations etc. It is an organic process. Sometimes it is speculative.”

Sergio gives an example of how he tries to get to grips with the problem his client is facing:

“Last year I took part of a corporate learning event in Turin and it was quite creative. People were co-designing the content. I launched the theme of Corporate Memory and by natural selection there were people from Shell, HP, management consultants and even the ex- mayor involved in conversations that made me understand ' the pain ' and the business case. Sharing that experience helped me to rethink and understand that there was a business case in capturing the knowledge lost from management and communicating across the staff.”

Although Big Bang Lab is going from strength to strength, Sergio admits there were challenges when setting up the company.

“Lack of solid business skills, inexistent financial support and the commercial / social dilemma about choosing the right legal structure were difficult for us in the beginning. There are not many examples of cultural enterprises as social enterprises. I bumped into Ed Milliband at one of the national social enterprises conferences when he was minister of the third sector, complaining about the "exclusion.” I felt that sectors such as culture, arts and media with big influence in society and a lot to offer were neglected or at least they were not inside the social enterprises radar."

"I have been learning by doing, making horrible mistakes and re-inventing myself. The challenge now lies in creating the resources in terms of governance and people in order to increase the chances of social investment and further development. I am working on it!  As a consequence of this gap and following a real experience with street children in Delhi, I have created a concept of cultural social responsibility which is becoming in a way the social aim of Big Bang Lab as a multiple creative, multiple stakeholder partnership towards social innovation.”

Sergio has some great advice for entrepreneurs looking to start in the third sector:

“First, if you are in a relationship, be prepared to be flexible, so treat your partner well. Personal relationships are very important.

Start from your strength and values as an individual, building these up through relationships and trust.

“Second tip, network like mad introducing new people all the time, and lastly, be prepared to jump to the unknown. The best advice is to start from your strength and values as an individual, building these up through relationships and trust. Be bold and don't undersell and undervalue what you have to offer."

"As a bonus, keep training, read observe, ask etc... as things are changing very quickly. Above all be truthful!”

And as for success in general, Sergio thinks there are some basic qualities that help you get ahead of the competition.

“Definitely a combination of determination, self-belief, passion and fun is a good mix. The road is long, so you better enjoy the journey.”

Like many new businesses Big Bang Lab uses social media outlets extensively to reach new customers and connect more closely with existing ones. For Sergio, sharing important information and knowledge is also a daily part of using social media.

“Social media allows us a more human interaction in terms of genuine conversations with other peers and clients. We are currently organizing a series of networking events and will be using social media to engage before, during and after the event in order to increase the level and quality of interaction for other up and coming events. I also share information and knowledge on the way as any other social media user, and have started blogging.”

As for the future, there’s obviously plenty in store for Big Bang Lab.

“Watch this space. Next week I am off to Warsaw. I am thrilled to be invited to participate in a panel on creative partnerships - Competencies in Culture - for a conference organized by the Ministry of Culture as part of the EU presidency. I will be introducing Big Bang Lab and the cultural social responsibility framework to policymakers and other colleagues."

"I am also very excited about the digital inclusion project in the South London Estate thanks to a Big Lottery grant as I can see this project to be expanding further. I am also making international connections and I hope to establish medium and large scale projects for 2012 and beyond."

“In the more immediate future, I will be working with an umbrella organisation representing older people from ethnic minorities and training them to use video for research and advocacy to raisetheir concerns on financial exclusion, which is going to be fun!”