Digital Shoreditch: The Future of Tech at London's Leading Interactive Festival
SXS-What? Yes, we’re still recovering too but that was March over in Austin, USA and May harks the return of another Interactive festival, Digital Shoreditch, over in London, UK. Putting aside the weather, there are many similarities with Austin and the Eastside of London that mirror the SXSW atmosphere—just look up at the Street-Art animating brick walls alongside Pop-Up food locations tempting office workers out with their burritos and artisan burgers.
London's Tech City
It’s no wonder that ‘Tech City’ blossomed in the creative hub around Old Street underground station, (now affectionately known as ‘Silicon Roundabout’) with Facebook, Google and hundreds of digital agencies holding offices nearby. With over 100 new start-ups per square kilometer and an average survival rate of 61%, ensuring your business flourishes is the challenge that many have to face. Thankfully business partners James Allsopp and Kam Star, (founders of gamification studio Playgen), have addressed the need for industry leaders to share their expertise.
Image via Digital Shoreditch
Speaking with James on the eve of Digital Shoreditch at their offices in Whitechapel, it is clear from the beginning how much ‘community’ is at the heart of the conference. The close-knit team is small but perfectly formed, working tirelessly to deliver an event that spans two weeks, with over 500 sessions and an estimated 15,000 attendees. It’s no easy feat for a not-for-profit organisation, and I was keen to find out how and why it even began.
How it all started
In 2011, James and Kam were curious as to why local companies in Shoreditch were winning awards for Innovation. They also wondered why they didn’t know them. So what did they do? They went out and knocked on doors.
Through pro-active conversations, they found out that these companies were more than happy to talk about what led to their success. Digital Shoreditch was born. Within its first year, over 2000 delegates attended. In the following year (which coincided with the London Olympics) the figure went up to 12,000. Not too shabby for a couple of guys knocking on doors!
This growth has been completely organic too, insists James, and all thanks to utilizing the social networks available to spread the (digital) word, increasing their reach far beyond their East London base. They never expected the conference to boom as quickly as it did but through partnerships with Hackney Council, City of London, and various other sponsors, its investment into the local community is even more paramount, with discussions on 2016’s events already in progress.
Highlights from #DS15
2015 saw the Digital Shoreditch team focusing on three main areas: decreasing the digital skills gaps for children, how to deal with your business during fast-growth stage, and how to help start-ups find their home in the city due to ever-increasing rent prices. Many of the content-rich sessions were crowd-sourced, demonstrating the need for great storytelling to engage digital community members like myself, with James concluding ‘If you have a good story, it should be shared’.
The first week saw sessions grouped under headings such as ‘Make’ and ‘Grow’, with an array of thought provoking topic matter, making me eager to absorb knowledge from the experts. A daily ‘secret speaker’ at a mysterious location was also promised (including the 19 year old Josh Valman who built a £1million firm in six months), as well as slicing up the networking activities with music and film elements including an Interactive #HackThePlanet event curated by BAFTA award winning film composer Simon Boswell. Over the two days I was able to attend, I experienced a range of emotions:
Kyra Maya Phillips, Co-Writer of ‘The Misfit Economy’ explored how we can learn from Somali Pirates, Hackers, and Gangsters on organisational strategy through their need for survival in the ‘informal’ world, with comparisons of Google’s retention rates and the need for culture preservation in street gangs.
the fact that only 3% of global Creative Directors are female demonstrated the necessity for Ali Hanan to found ‘Creative Equals’, an organisation seeking to improve the balance of diversity in the workplace.
— Christopher Quigley (@theQuiggler) May 15, 2015
The week was rounded up by our very own Chris Kerns, Director of Analytics & Research at Spredfast, who closed his presentation on Real-Time Marketing, by noting that it was the beginning of a ‘bigger shift’ towards data-driven, smart social and that it’s here to stay.
Much like the conference and the digital crowd that attended these sessions, our understanding of what it takes to be successful is evolving. As a Social Strategist looking to help customers stay savvy with social media best practice, it was a good reminder to stay agile and adapt to your community. Just like Digital Shoreditch has.
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