What do the one-time longest passenger ship in the world, the oldest continually used theatre in the UK, and an arthouse cinema have in common? The answer is that they’re all unlikely venues set to host events when the inaugural Bristol Technology Festival kicks off in the city this weekend.
Indeed – the organisers of Bristol Technology Festival, which is set to take place November 2 – 7 – are hoping to stage a festival fit to live up to established entries in the city’s events calendar. Bristol has a thriving culture, creative and arts sector and counts Bristol International Kite Festival, Bristol Harbour Festival and Bristol International Balloon Festival among its annual activities.
Better late than never
Tech, admits festival organiser and departing Engine Shed Director Nick Sturge, has taken a little longer to enter the fold despite Bristol & Bath boasting a productive, vibrant and thriving tech economy. According to Tech Nation Report 2018, on average, each employee living there generates £320k in revenue (versus £201k in London).
“There’s a lot of stuff going on in Bristol, which is dynamic from a tech cluster point of view, but there hasn’t been a single bringing together of lots of activities,” says Sturge. “It seemed odd that there wasn’t a tech festival, so I brought a few characters together who were going to run large events anyway, so it coincided nicely.”
One of the events is The Bristech Challenge, part of Bristech Conference 2019, which takes place on November 7. The challenge, which lets people enter to win prizes and learn new skills in secure coding and cyber, is one of 39 events lined up throughout the week. The festival also caters for everything – from fintech and equitytech – to agritech and oiltech.
Due to the compact nature of the city, Bristol and its eclectic mix of venues is well-suited to host a metropolitan festival and Sturge says that attendees will rarely need to walk more than 25 minutes out from the city centre to get to the next event.
On a personal level, Sturge aims to promote not only Bristol’s tech cluster internationally with the festival (something that he says is more of a long-term goal), but also on a local level.
“A huge issue for us as a city at the moment is that young people and the layperson of any age doesn’t see the stuff that’s going on here for a variety of reasons,” he says. “An overarching objective for the cluster at the moment is to maximise the talent pipepeline – we need to make sure that young people and their parents have higher visibility of the tech cluster. That’s a key motivation and so making some noise about the stuff going on here is really important.”
In offering an explanation for that low visibility, Sturge says that it’s because the city’s tech ecosystem is predominantly made up of B2B companies. “Consumer brand names that we have here like IMDB and Just Eat don’t get recognised [as Bristol-based companies], and even Oracle isn’t a well-known name to people who aren’t from the tech sector or have been around as long as I have.”
With something for everyone, there’s at least 39 reasons for entrepreneurs and anyone with an interest in digital tech to head to Bristol Technology Festival – and Sturge assures that there will be an opportunity for attendees to let their hair down afterwards. “We’ll be having parties alongside the festival – it can be fun as well as informative while also being family-friendly too.”
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