Touted as Britain's answer to South by Southwest (SXSW), Digital Shoreditch will include an assortment of talks, showcases, competitions, workshops, open studios, exhibitions and parties. Each day has a different theme, beginning with “Inspire” on Monday 21 May - offering talks and workshops for school children looking for a future career in digital.
Other days of the festival are dedicated to creating links between local universities and the digital community (“Innovate,” 22 May), helping people get jobs in the digital sector (“Career,” 23 May), giving startups exposure to investors (“Capital,” 24 May), and providing advice on building a brand (“Brands,” 30 May).
Over the weekend there will also be a hackathon (“Jam & Hack,” 26-27 May) which will give developers the opportunity to build a mobile hack, app, game, mobile site, AR or API mash-up that brings people closer to the London 2012 Olympic Games. The hackathon is sponsored by Cadbury, and the overall winner will get £10k to help get their creation up and running in time for the Games.
According to Kam Star, “chief play officer” at PlayGen and founder of Digital Shoreditch, the aim of the event is to move away from the corporate style of events in the technology sector and put the emphasis on having fun.
“This is a crowdsourced, community-driven, not-for-profit event that's about participating, engaging, getting to meet people and doing interesting stuff,” he said. “It's not an exhibition hall, it's not about giving headline space to all the big names. Eighty percent of the people who are speaking, you probably haven't heard of yet.”
Although Digital Shoreditch emulates SXSW in some ways, Star believes this event will be “a little less controlling” and “a lot more forgiving” than the Texas conference. He said the backdrop of East London will give the event a different vibe.
“The rich tapestry that is here is far beyond what you would get in an American city. What we have here is a richer mix of creative, of technical, of entrepreneurial talent that's all meshing together,” he said.
While many people still view Tech City as a phony attempt by the coalition government to align itself with a booming part of the UK economy, Star believes the East London cluster is about more than political spin. He said that if the number of startups and investment firms that have registered for Digital Shoreditch is anything to go by, the community is thriving.
According to a recent report by international law firm Pinsent Masons, tech startup transactions are now driving the technology M&A market in Britain, and the government's agenda to develop the UK as a leader in technology innovation is also attracting investment from overseas.
However, separate research by PwC claims that entrepreneurship in the UK is being held back by the fact that investors still don't understand the technology market - echoing a recent warning by Charles Irving of Pond Ventures that technology entrepreneurs in London are suffering from a lack of “smart” investors.
Respondents to PwC's survey said R&D incentives in the UK are sufficient to encourage earlier stage technology businesses to undertake innovative development work, but the UK has yet to match America's community of “super-angels”.
“Technological talent within the UK is as strong as anywhere in the world, but it is the UK’s potential lack of ability to successfully commercialise its technological breakthroughs that results in the market lagging behind that in other territories such as the US,” said Brian Henderson, director in PwC’s technology team.
If more targeted investment is what Tech City needs, then events like Digital Shoreditch are essential for encouraging entrepreneurship, showcasing local innovation and nurturing relationships between startups and investors.
Digital Shoreditch will take place between 21 May and 1 June at the Big Top on Shoreditch High Street. For more details click here.
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