Great coworking spaces, talent on tap, and even investment opportunities: is there anything that Manchester’s booming tech sector
can’t offer its digital tech entrepreneurs?
Despite its jam-packed events calendar and vibrant tech meet up scene, the city has never played host to a digital tech-themed metropolitan festival. That’s set to change when the inaugural Digital City Festival kicks off at the cutting-edge Manchester Central Convention complex, running for five days from March 9-13.
If you’re looking for investment – from seed to Series A, B and beyond – several of its fringe events will offer the opportunity to mix with (and hear from) Manchester’s organisations and investors – including AO.com, City Football Grown, N Brown Group and GC Angels.
The brainchild of publishing company Prolific North and events organiser Don’t Panic, the Digital City Festival features a centrepiece called Digital City Expo that sees a trio of established industry expos – Marketing Show North, Tech Show North, and eCommerce Show North – run across two days for the first time on March 11-12.
Business and pleasure
More than 60 organisations – including the BBC, EY, AO.com, and Tech Nation – are lined up to speak across its eight stages. Grabbing a free ticket also grants access to a new Media Zone dedicated to celebrating disruptive startups and scaleups in the North of England.
Martyn Collins, festival director at Digital City Festival, says that promoting and running the three expos individually has proved “a bit of a nuisance” in recent years. Located out-of-town, their former home backed onto a dual-carriageway, which scuppered any post-event drinks plans before they’d been made.
Conversely, Manchester Central is one one of the most accessible venues in the country, something that will make attending the expo’s various official after-show parties, receptions and awards ceremonies far more palatable. “The social side is as important as the 9-5 business bit,” Martyn stresses.
Featuring five days of fringe events (some free, others not) hosted at coworking spaces and a multitude of other venues across the city, Digital City Festival offers much more beyond its main expo. Digital transformation is a key theme throughout, zoning in on topics such as health innovation, smart cities, 5G, inclusivity and homelessness.
Dive into its agenda and you’ll find topics close to the heart of Manchester; one particular keynote, for example, is set to examine how AI and data could help Greater Manchester become carbon neutral by 2038, which is a key aim for the region’s mayor Andy Burnham.
At the same time, the festival has been designed with a collaborative mindset. Its steering panel is made up of influential Northern business figures, including TEDxManchester founder Herb Kim, Leeds Digital Festival director Stuart Clarke, and Tech Nation Head of Entrepreneur Engagement Liz Scott.
Though early days, the aim is to create an enduring expo that businesses can return to year-after-year to network, collaborate and discover new growth-enabling technologies. For Martyn, bringing external perspectives onboard is essential in making that happen.
“We’re not trying to create a brand in itself with Digital City Festival – it was up to Manchester as the biggest tech hub outside of London by far to take ownership and make it theirs,” he says. “Those on our steering panel understand more than anyone that, if you create the right environment for people and businesses to collaborate, there’ll be benefits for everyone.”