Stuart Clarke has been working in marketing for more than 20 years but decided to make the switch to digital. Now he helps companies realise their digital potential in his role at Media Yorkshire. Here he explains why he thinks Leeds is the most exciting digital city in the UK and why you won’t want to miss out on this year’s Leeds Digital Festival (25th – 29th April 2016).
What is this year’s Leeds Digital Festival (April 25th – 29th) about?
We’ve got around 50 events with more than a 100 speakers happening across 20 venues across the city centre and the aim is to raise awareness and promote the talent we have in Leeds.
Leeds loses more of its students than any other comparable universities. We want to change that. We want students who are studying in Leeds to see the various opportunities open to them and keep their talent in Yorkshire.
We also want to raise awareness about the great things that tech and digital companies are doing in Leeds, across the sector. For some reason, businesses in our city like to keep their light under a bushel even though they are doing some incredible things. This means brands don’t collaborate with each other and ultimately look elsewhere when it comes to finding work. The Leeds Digital Festival wants to encourage collaboration between these smaller companies, get more digital spend staying in Yorkshire and bring brands together.
It’s about shouting a bit more. We have this mentality in Leeds to create brilliant things but we just get our heads down and do it. Over the hill in Manchester, they open a crisp packet and they write a press release, and we can learn from that. Leeds needs to be more like that.
People don’t know what’s happening around the corner, and that needs to change.
What will be most exciting about Leeds Digital Festival this year?
There are a lot of big name brands at this year’s event – Sky, TechNorth, the Yorkshire Post – so that’s exciting to see them involved. For the first time, we’ve also collaborated with Live at Leeds, which has its Music Day on the 29th so that will be an exciting way to bring music and digital together.
But there are so many exciting events. There’s the UK’s first ‘Code in the Dark’ at the Belgrave Music Hall, where 30 developers battle it out to get the audience’s vote and be crowned champion. ‘Leeds Algorave’ on the Friday at the ODI will see coders write computer programs live, while the programs generate their music.
There’s a fantastic digital news event with Buzzfeed, BBC News, Sky, and the Yorkshire Post, focusing on where the audience is in the digital age.
Why do you think Leeds is such good ground for digital companies?
It’s a compact city, 20 minutes from side to side. I think we’re innovators and do-ers. There’s a real big legacy of people setting their own companies up and doing well. Whether that’s manufacturing or digital, we’ve got a history of getting on with it and innovating along the way. Because we’re getting on with it, building and creating, we forget to shout about it. But hopefully Leeds Digital Festival will help to change that.
Leeds has really changed over the past few years, lots of bigger companies coming in. Brands like Sky have opened new offices here in Leeds, bringing 400 brand new jobs to the city and they actually worked with LinkedIn. They wanted a new base outside of London, they didn’t really mind where it was, they just wanted a good digital infrastructure. So they worked with LinkedIn to find where the skills were and they chose Leeds, over the likes of Manchester or Bristol.
We saw the TechNation report that came out last month, showing how Leeds is growing and how it’s a really important part of the digital structure outside of London. In fact, I would say it’s probably the most important digital city in the UK outside of London.
What is the most important thing for new tech startups to remember?
Talent. Getting the right team and skill mix is so important but it can be tricky, especially if there’s just one or two of you. It’s good to get help and advice; collaboration is so crucial to get the support you need.
How do you think tech in Leeds needs to change over the next five years?
I think we’ll get more and more big companies moving in, like Sky, who are attracted by the workforce. I think Sky is a great move for this city but they’ve set up apprenticeship and graduate schemes so it’s had a real benefit for Leeds, but I think we’ll get a lot more because of the momentum at the moment.
- Favourite Yorkshire eatery/bar? Headrow House in Leeds
- What tech do you use? Google Nexus phone; favourite app is Slack, great for remote co-working
- Top 3 films? Casablanca; It’s A Wonderful Life; Die Hard
- What do you drive? Specialized Sirrus Elite (bicycle)
- Perfect Sunday Breakfast? Huevos Rancheros with extra chillies