The people making Leeds Digital Festival possible

Leeds Digital Festival returns this September to celebrate digital culture in all its forms. Now in its sixth year, over two weeks the Festival will invite the region’s best and brightest to showcase what the tech sector has to offer.

Since its inception in 2016, the Festival has gone from strength to strength and we’re expecting to host over 100 events in the Autumn programme, but where did the Leeds Digital Festival begin? And why? Read on to find out…

Back in 2016, spurred on by the city’s digital prowess and a mutual annoyance with the high barriers to entry at existing tech events, a group of people from the Leeds’s digital community set out to create a tech event for everyone. 

“My firm landed in Leeds in 2013, and found the previously-existing festival in Leeds was largely dying embers – in 2014 there were 5 events, then nothing.  We couldn’t have guessed, when about ten of us gathered in the Cross Keys pub in Holbeck, how deep the hunger was for an event to pull together the tech community of Leeds” 

Paul Berwin, Festival Director and Head of Digital and Commercial Law at Berwins Digital

Whilst many events, certainly a number of those operating in the tech space, charge entrance fees for event hosts or speakers, the Leeds Digital Festival directors felt that in order for the Festival programme to live up to it’s strap-line and truly be the tech event for everyone, it needed to be free for all to get involved. That meant a hard “no” to costly entry fees and convoluted application processes, and the introduction of an open-platform system that would allow a self-funded start-up to sit alongside the city’s tech giants in a Festival lineup. 

This community, almost open-source nature is where the Festival finds its strength, Paul adds. Not only does the open-platform system allow for new and innovative organisations to step into the spotlight – where they might otherwise be overshadowed by established corporates – it’s also allowed the Festival to react to significant changes in the environment. 

From the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw a programme of over 200 in-person events pivot to an entirely virtual offering overnight, to the wider cultural and societal shifts seen in the tech space in recent years. The open-platform system levels the playing field when it comes to having your voice heard. 

“When we set up the Festival, we had two clear aims: to celebrate and collaborate. Over the past six years, we’ve certainly helped to tell the story of the incredible success of the Leeds tech sector by showcasing the talent and innovation we have here. And our free, open-platform system has allowed anyone and everyone to take part, which has brought the sector together. ”

Stuart Clarke, Leeds Digital Festival Director

In order to maintain the open-platform system on which the Festival runs, each year we rely on funding from our Sponsors and partners throughout the city, who believe in the value that the Festival creates for tech in Leeds and beyond. Without this sponsorship – and the enthusiasm that each partner brings to the table – the Festival wouldn’t be possible at all.  It’s time to give our sponsors a shout out!

This year’s Festival includes four Premier sponsors: Joining us for a fourth year, Crisp return as a Premier Festival sponsor to deliver a Safety Tech event alongside DCMS. They’ll be joined by global Healthtech leader TPP and Leeds-born consultancy BJSS, who have a whole host of events in store for this year’s Festival, including; an Agile Surgery, a Hackathon themed around Diversity & Inclusion, and a Healthtech meetup. The University of Leeds will also be joining us to host both an Introduction to R, and an Intermediate-level follow up session for all your programming needs. 

This year’s Executive sponsors include AND Digital, Credera, Leeds City Council, The LEP, PokerStars and Sky Betting & Gaming. From Sky Betting & Gaming’s 100% Free to be Me event – which considers the benefits of championing authenticity – AND Digital’s ‘Creating exceptional culture in the age of remote working’ and ‘Closing the gender gap in tech’, this year’s Executive sponsors have really hit the nail on the head when it comes to addressing some of the tech sectors biggest challenges.

The Festival is also supported by a number of Associate-level sponsors which this year includes: Arup, Avenue HQ, Cyber Security Partners, DXW, Equal Experts, Flutter, Force24, Fruition Consulting, Hackajob, Marsh Commercial, Morrisons, Page White & Farrer, Scott Logic, The Data Shed, Walker Morris LLP. In addition to their sponsorship contribution, all of the Associates will be hosting events in the Autumn programme – from CSP’s ‘Securing the Cloud’ to The Data Shed’s ‘The Knee’d for Data in Surgery’.  

And rounding off the list are our Partner sponsors, who work with us to make sure the Festival can go ahead each year. For 2021, this list includes Berwins, Bruntwood SciTech, Channel 4, Creode, Engage, Garbutt + Elliott, Leeds Community Foundation, Leeds.Tech and Tech Nation.

“Collaboration in the tech industry just makes sense – putting lots of great minds together means we can share ideas, learn from each other and make better digital decisions. Leeds is jam-packed with fantastic technology companies so Leeds Digital Festival is the perfect way to bring us all together.”

Charlotte Knowles, Managing Director at TPP

Without the help of the Festival sponsors, Leeds Digital Festival wouldn’t be possible and we wouldn’t be able to provide a platform to support the city’s vibrant tech sector and the talented individuals who inhabit it.

The two 2020 Festivals delivered hundreds of incredible events that were attended by 45,000 people from over 60 countries, and #LeedsDigi21 promises to be even better, with over 100 events expected to take place and contributions from the likes of DCMS, Ofcom, and the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation already in the programme.

From Cyber Security to Coding and Software, Startups to Sustainability, this year’s Leeds Digital Festival will have something for everyone, and be a true celebration of the city’s digital ecosystem. Don’t miss out, the full programme goes live on Tuesday 31st August!

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