From NASA hackathons to building pipelines: how Tech Exeter is driving digital in Devon

Vicky Hunter, August 30, 2019 3 min read

TechExeter (and its sister community Digital Exeter) are community groups, driven by a passionate volunteer leadership team. Entirely self-funded as a CIC (community interest company), it champions all things tech and digital in the region.

Money raised by the organisation goes back into supporting the community, which Tech Exeter does in a number of ways – from putting on free monthly meetups to running NASA hackathons.

We spoke to director Kris Sum to find out more.

How are you supporting Exeter’s digital tech ecosystem?

Kris Sum: In a number of ways. They include putting on free monthly meetups ranging from 30 to 100 people, which are complemented by an annual conference with over two dozen speakers and hundreds of delegates. We also help people run special interest events, such as VR and AR demo nights at the University of Exeter.

Other initiatives include running the Exeter site for the global NASA SpaceApps Hackathon, and putting on the GAME>PLAY gaming festivals (Exeter’s only video gaming event). We also work hard to support other local interest groups such as PRISM, Alexa Meetup, and Python Meetup.

Of course, we’re also supporting our neighbouring communities in Plymouth, Cornwall, North Devon, Somerset, and Bristol and Bath.

What’s great about Exeter?

Situated at the end of the M5 motorway, Exeter, the regional capital of Devon, has easy transport to London (two train lines, daily flights to London City), and consistently punches above its weight in terms of its economy and quality of life.

It has an ever-expanding science park, a world-class university, several co-working spaces in the centre and on the outskirts of the city, and is a great place to live with plenty of protected green spaces and things to do.

We have close involvement with the University of Exeter and Exeter College – and with the new Institute of Coding, Data Science Institute and T-levels trials coming up, we have an excellent talent pipeline that local businesses can easily tap into.

What are your tech ecosystem’s biggest challenges?

Our biggest challenge, like many university cities, is talent retention. We’ve got plenty of microbusinesses in the region from people who have spent time elsewhere and then subsequently come back to Devon for a better quality of life.

We’re working hard with the college and the university on keeping our young people here – by showing them the opportunities that exist in the region and embedding them into our tech community at a younger age than we have been before.

Who’s in your team?

I run a software consultancy firm by day, building solutions for private sector and higher education establishments. Kathryn White is the innovation manager at the Environmental Futures and Big Data Impact Lab. And Jacob Tomlinson, who has recently started a new job with Nvidia, worked as the lead engineer for the Met Office Informatics Lab with experience in software development, operational system engineering and cloud architecture.

What’s in store in the future for you?

We’re continuing to push forward with our initiatives into diversity and inclusivity – we’re passionate about making sure everyone can be part of our industry. We’ll be looking into training and upskilling for those who might be missed by traditional pipelines and escalators – for instance, stay at home parents and those who wish to try a new career later on in life.

We’re also making our signposting efforts more visible – we’re hoping to have outputs from a regional mapping exercise soon. Our next big event is the annual tech conference on the 11th of September.

Our team and community are passionate about what we do, but it takes considerable effort to do everything on a shoestring budget. So we’re working to move the CIC into a position where it relies less on volunteer time, by appointing a paid coordinator role.

Community, South West