Closely associated with its namesake music festival that takes place on the August bank holiday weekend, Reading has also welcomed rock stars of the digital and tech world to the city in recent years.
They’ve appeared at the Festival of Digital Disruption (or FODD), which returns on November 18 – 22 and will once again see inspiring talks given by pioneers of the Thames Valley’s digital and tech sector (and beyond). For the first time, it’s set to take place at Reading’s new skills-focused tech hub The Curious Lounge.
For FODD founder Louize Clarke (pictured), that in itself is one of the most exciting aspects of this year’s festival. “We’ve got a decent AV system and a space that works, so we feel much more confident in putting things on,” she says. “We can run something properly now while using independent caterers, which is great as we’re really passionate about the indie scene.”
A grassroots festival at heart, FODD 2019 has attracted recognisable names to speak – including Crowdcube cofounder Luke Lang and Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones. “It’s great to have them as headliners because Reading doesn’t always get people like that,” says Clarke.
Slotted inbetween are an eclectic mix of events that cover everything – from immersive tech, to 3D-printed bionics, and deploying IoT solutions in tech-for-good projects.
“The festival is designed to bring the digital community together and also try and get people who don’t necessarily think they are digital into that world, because I think everyone has an element of tech in their business now,” says Clarke. “We deliberately put eclectic content on to bring different people out of the woodwork.”
Focused on skills
Clarke established The Curious Lounge as a destination for its members to develop the skills needed to start and grow a digital business, and she is keen for the festival to reflect that mission.
“I think lots of people attending are going to work for big corporates, and we’re trying to say that – actually – it’s OK to start a business,” she says. “Reading hasn’t been encouraging startups, and if we can’t do that then we won’t get the scaleups.”
Bringing people together is a key aim for Clarke, who as director of ConnectTVT has been championing the Thames Valley region since 2014. Her experience in supporting early-stage and scaling digital tech companies spans more than 24 years, and she believes that more can be done to connect the dots in the region.
“Reading’s not been quite good at collaborating, so we’re aiming to encourage people to come under one roof and have a conversation,” she says.
In encouraging the next generation to start businesses or consider careers in digital and tech, Clarke has invited students from Reading’s local schools, colleges and universities to attend this year’s Festival of Digital Disruption.
The move was inspired by a FODD event last year, when a student approached space satellite company Open Cosmos – which spoke at an event – about collaborating. The student’s solution was eventually integrated into one of the company’s offerings.
“The festival has always been about encouraging the next generation to consider careers in digital and tech, and it was an example of one person coming along and being inspired by listening to a speaking company,” says Clarke. “It all helps startups – and scaleups to a degree – whose voices aren’t really being heard by the next generation.”
In the future, Clarke wants to keep the festival to a modest size to avoid diluting its vision, while continuing to attract attendees who are keen to collaborate.
“I don’t think FODD needs to have a million people attending over two weeks – for me, it’s more about the quality of events,” she says. “It’s really important to me that the festival feels accessible and open.”
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