A quiet sort of international rock star, Dave Stewart has spent much of the time since he found fame and fortune with Eurythmics behind the scenes, honing the talents of others.
Now also a screenwriter, author and composer, he remains a powerful figure in the music industry – working with Stevie Nicks, Gwen Stefani, Bryan Ferry and Katy Perry – and this weekend Stewart announces another unexpected departure.
He is to become the creative director of a new online game designed to find valuable new ideas and give inventors the chance to make it big. Called Ideas Britain, the game aims to break open the closed world of investment to a wave of fresh business concepts, by simply allowing their ideas to compete for attention and prizes.
Stewart, 62, wants Ideas Britain to function like a more supportive, virtual version of the BBC’s Dragons’ Den – giving professional advice and financial backing to new thinking across the widest range of fields, from technology to social care and the creative arts.
Arriving in London from Nashville last week he explained his enthusiasm for the venture to the Observer. “There are so many brilliant ideas that don’t get anywhere,” he said. “It is one thing having a good thought, but then getting it into some form of presentation that will eventually enable you to execute something, this is what this idea is all about.” Britain, Stewart argues, is wasting untapped talent.
Those who post the most appealing ideas on the site in as few as 140 characters score points by attracting “likes”, “comments” and “shares”. Each month a winning contender receives development cash and free dedicated professional mentoring, including legal advice.
“Ideas in themselves are not copyrightable,” said Adam Shaw, the former television executive who founded and runs Ideas Britain, “but help from a professional is not copyrightable and we will make that very clear. It is a gift.”
In the 1980s, together with Annie Lennox, Stewart put on a suit to convince a bank manager to fund their song Sweet Dreams, later recording the whole thing in a makeshift studio in a warehouse.
He remains convinced that true innovation comes from outside the corporate world. Ideas Britain, Stewart said, was a way to counteract a tendency for big business to shut its doors to new thinking.
“What happens in most industries is they stagnate when the same people have been at the top for a while. There are lots of internal pressures that don’t help and in the past I have called it ‘the pyramid of the powerless’ because you often have lots of underlings at the bottom who have great ideas but to get the idea up to the top is complicated because there are people that want to block it because it wasn’t their idea or are scared to pass it on in case the CEO says it is a stupid idea.”
The new mobile platform claims to be the first to use a game to unearth business talent. Stewart believes, that unlike Dragons’ Den, it will keep the focus on the new talent, rather than on its panel of professional advisers.
“What we are offering is quite intense and you would take it seriously unless you were crazy,” he said. Ideas can come from young people “or from a 75-year-old in Aberdeen,” he said. Examples might range from an app to help people design their garden using a smartphone’s geo-location technology, to something that gives extra life to the soles of shoes.
“An example of the way it can work is that when I was working with Stevie Nicks on her album I asked her to do a competition and get somebody to design her a shawl, because she is crazy about that kind of thing. Well, it went ballistic and when Stevie chose a winner she decided to wear the shawl all through her tour. Now the winning designer’s whole life has changed because everyone wants a shawl and her home has become like a mini-factory to cope.”
Last week Stewart used the Hospital Club, the creative venue in London he set up with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, to tell a group of potential mentors about Ideas Britain.
Headline competitions will be run several times a year and until 27 March new ideas can be submitted using video, pictures or short descriptions. The Ideas Britain Facebook page and YouTube channel will play host to the submissions and #444ideas will be used on Twitter to monitor the ideas that are gaining the most support.
The four most popular ideas submitted will be announced as finalists in the first week of April.
“It is a question of confidence,” said Stewart. “The web has allowed lots of bad, random things to happen, with trolls slamming everything, but this is the reverse. It means that someone on the Isle of Arran can put up an idea that will reach people who can help.”