The Leeds Digital Festival has been a fixture of the City for three years, and is coming into its fourth. It’s gone from strength to strength, but it wouldn’t exist if not for the actions of its founders. We spoke to Simon Palmer, one of those founders, to learn more about how the Festival came to be and what it has in store for the future.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how 235 events over the space of eleven days is going to go down,” said Simon. We’ve been talking about how quickly the Digital Festival has grown in the relatively short time it’s existed, and how it’s become something that’s much bigger than just Leeds.
“If it was just Leeds, there would almost be too many events there for people to cope with,” he said. “They’re filling up really well, which means we must be encouraging more people to come to Leeds from outside to actually fill those events, maybe people from down in London coming up to see what all the noise is about. It’s unbelievable.”
Simon is a partner at Garbutt & Elliott, an independent accountancy firm based in Leeds and York. His experience with the Digital sector in Leeds and knowing some of the key players in the City puts him in a great position to take care of the Digital Festival’s financial matters; as he puts it, he is one of the Festivals’ “looker-afters”, making sure the money is spent well.
“Stuart Clarke, the Festival fundraiser and fellow director, has been very successful this year in both raising the profile of the Festival and helping us exceed last year’s sponsorship. The majority of this funding is spent on marketing and promoting the Festival inside and outside of Leeds. When the Festival kicks off we probably have had a team of around 10 people involved in the organisation and promotion of the events”
However, in his day job he has plenty of experience with tech firms as well. “After being involved with the creative industry for a long while, we decided to set up a high-growth startup department within the firm. This lets us deal with the massive uptake and growth of the digital companies and the technology companies coming through in Leeds,” said Simon. This department works with startups and entrepreneurs to help them access the funding they need to grow.
Educating at the Digital Festival
With a background like this, it’s not surprising that Simon has decided to run some events at the Leeds Digital Festival in addition to playing his part in organising the entire thing. He is putting his expertise with helping entrepreneurs secure funding with “Burn Rate, Hockey Stick Growth to Euphoria”, which will be held at the Box on Thursday May 2nd at 8:30 am.
“It’s about the various stages of funding,” said Simon. “When you start up, you’ve got to find your seed capital. Then you’ve hopefully got the hockey-stick growth once you’ve got your product up and rolling; hockey-stick growth is like a graph where things go up suddenly, making a hockey stick shape.
“Then you’re really looking at a different sort of funding capital. So maybe you’re looking at venture capital at that point, to assist the business with the growth in the number of employees, and just funding massive expansion. You can’t do that unless you have additional funding for it. And then, finally, there’s the euphoria when you sell.”
Creating the Digital Festival
So how did all this get started? Before the Festival had been created, Simon was already working quite closely with the digital community in Leeds. He and the other organisers started to come up with an idea that would eventually become the Digital Festival, but it was originally very different.
“I’m a big South by Southwest fan,” he said, referring to the festival that combines film, music and interactive media. “We wanted to create this North by Northeast event, taking tech and maybe film and combining it with music.”
Of course, along the way this vision changed and transformed into what we now know as the Leeds Digital Festival. “Out of the initial ideas it essentially became a very independent, not-for-profit festival,” said Simon.
Despite having seen years of success with the Festival, Simon is still learning from others. He’s recently been in touch with a festival in Estonia called Latitude 59, and will be headed out there after the Digital Festival is over.
“Estonia is in some respects ahead of us,” he said. “We’ve probably got more digital companies in Leeds, but I think out there they’ve got a lot more digital processes within service and more mainstream businesses. So it will be interesting to see what goes on out there.”
Hopefully, Simon will bring back more ideas which he can use to make future iterations of the Leeds Digital Festival even bigger and better than ever before.