After the doors of Inition London were suddenly shuttered last month, a group of employees including founder Stuart Cupit quickly worked to build a new agency from the ashes.
Inition was an agency specialising in virtual and augmented reality content and counted Google, Vodafone, Adidas, Jaguar and Samsung among its clients.
But after running up £1m in debts and with bailiffs knocking on the doors, its Dubai-based owner unceremoniously shut it down and left its blindsided employees scrambling for redundancy packages.
In the midst of its demise, four of its senior staffers took action to launch their own agency that would try to recover some of the “magic” of Inition.
Called Solarflare Studio, it’s being led by Cupit, former head of client services Jay Short, former head of production John Martinelli and lead artist Lee Spooner. They have respectively taken on the roles of creative technology officer, client services director, head of production and technical art director.
“Senior members of the team began discussing the idea of creating something new once it became clear Inition could not be saved," said Short.
"I think that the magic of what made Inition great had become diluted since it was sold [to Dubai-based Digital Communications]. The core of the company had always been a genuine passion for the work that we did and the chance to produce game changing experiences. This was happening less and less and the team wanted a new challenge and also to be in a position where we could operate without the constant stress of a company that was in clear financial difficulties.”
Its first clients are those that had been affected by Inition’s sudden closure, where projects were midway through completion. But it wasn’t an easy process. The new company first needed to convince Inition to allow it to talk to these clients directly and take on the projects – a task made easier by the prospect of liquidation and clients demanding monies owed for uncompleted work. It then had to convince clients that the fledgling Solarflare team were capable of picking up the mantle.
“We were determined not to let clients down, many of whom had become friends over years of working together,” continued Short.
“It was not a matter of simply being able to say that we would continue the work and that the only thing that would change would be the name of the company who delivered it. We explained that where possible, we were looking to retain members of the Inition team who had already been working on their projects. However, many of the clients are large organisations and they needed to do their due diligence on us as well as talk about how risk could be mitigated from a financial point of view (particularly trust had been compromised by the collapse of Inition).
"We were fortunate that the majority of the clients in the end did decide to come on board, but the process was far from simple and it was disappointing, but understandable, when some clients did say that they were unable to continue. At the same time as having the conversations with the clients, the team were also simultaneously talking to former colleagues who we were looking to bring on board with the projects. Again, this conversation was not always simple, as all members of staff had not been paid salary from Inition.
“The majority of the team were keen to be involved in projects with Solarflare Studio that they had started working on and were keen to bring to a close, as well as working as part of a team that had become very close over time. We have been very lucky with how things have gone in the first month of Solarflare Studio, but it has been far from simple.”
Short declined to reveal the clients that have come on board, but said they span the gamut of media, space, finance, energy and retail.
Inition had built itself a reputation for its work in augmented and virtual reality. Just a day prior to the shock closure, it had been celebrating its nomination for a Lovie Award for a project with BBDO Dublin for the Road Safety Authority (RSA) in Ireland. It had been asked to create an immersive experience to bring to life the potential consequences of drink-driving. The tech was taken to schools and offices around the country and proved so impactful that the RSA had planned to bring it back in 2020.
In September it also launched a campaign for Mastercard to support its Rugby World Cup sponsorship. The agency created the first virtual reality "tackle" which allowed members of the public to experience the sensation of a professional rugby tackle while wearing a haptic feedback bodysuit and VR goggles.
However, Short said that Solarflare Studio, while continuing to specialise in tech like AI, VR/AR and holographics, would also “push the boundaries of how new technology can be combined with killer execution to create results-driven experiences".
“From a running start, Solarflare Studio aims to become the go-to experiential production agency for those looking for something different,” he added.
“What happens next is to a certain extent unknown. All we know is that for the founders, we feel as excited about the future as we have done for years.”