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“Leeds had more tech events that week than San Francisco”

Shining a spotlight on the success and legacy of last year’s Leeds Digital Festival

ConferenceLeeds is celebrating Leeds’ thriving digital sector strength following the immense success of last years Leeds Digital Festival. The event, which is the North’s largest digital festival, was held last year in April 2018 and was a city-wide, open platform celebration of all things digital. Taking place over two weeks, with 660 speakers, 400 companies involved and a total of 20,000 attendees, the 2018 event was the biggest yet.

Stuart Clarke, Festival Director of Leeds Digital Festival, reflected on the success of the event: “2018 was the third year of the festival, and we were impressed with the growth we’ve had so far. In 2016 we had 56 events, 2017 we held 115, and this 2018 held a record breaking 170, alongside an extended time frame of two weeks to ensure we could provide delegates the opportunity to attend more events. What’s more, Leeds had more tech events take place that week than in San Francisco – clearly highlighting Leeds’ ability to stand out in the digital sector on an international stage!

What makes Leeds Digital Festival so special is that it is fully open platform. Companies from across the city host events, and we help make noise about it. Competitors even come together for the greater good of showcasing Leeds’ digital sector strength. For example, Leeds Loves Search brought together five companies that would usually be competitors, to host a session on SEO, for the wider benefit of Leeds and the festival attendees.

The beauty of the festival is also held in the breadth and depth of the sessions that are held here. From small and new companies, such as Calls9 who held a bootcamp event for start-ups, through to larger companies such as Skybet, who hosted a full day conference at Aspire for 500 delegates, events came in all shapes and sizes. With all parties coming together with one clear aim – celebrating fantastic innovation in Leeds – the festival was a collaboration of knowledge across experiences and levels.

The main objectives of the festival are to drive collaboration and discussion, to facilitate networking, and to bring people to the city; with people attending from all over the country, and the world. For example, we have delegates visit from Estonia, who attended for their third year this year, and there were also speakers from Paris, LA, Copenhagen and Toronto.

Finally, the festival’s close links with the universities and undergraduates provide a strong lasting legacy for the city. The University of Leeds put on three events in 2017, with this increasing to 18 in 2018. They are already in the process of planning more for 2019 and are keen to get more students involved, in order to inspire more to stay in the city after graduation. Events such as this demonstrate what Leeds has to offer young people who want to begin a career in the digital sector. It helps to not only retain the talent we currently hold at the universities, but it appeals to graduates from competing cities, including London, helping to broaden the talent pool available in the city.

The festival really helped to shine a spotlight on what is available in Leeds, even to those who couldn’t attend. Leeds is a fantastic, modern digital city, and not only did the events highlight this, but the venues they were held in did too. From Headrow House to the Victorian Arcades, delegates in their feedback were happily surprised by the quality and uniqueness of the venues.

Last year was a grand success in every area; with the festival being truly open, welcoming and a great reflection how Leeds is as a city and the culture here.”