Leeds Digital Festival returns with 300 events in September

Festival director Stuart Clarke.Festival director Stuart Clarke.
Festival director Stuart Clarke.
One of the largest tech events in the country is returning for the sixth year running with a hybrid format.

Leeds Digital Festival has unveiled a programme of 300 virtual and in-person events that celebrate digital culture in all its forms, hosted by start-ups, leading tech businesses and government institutions.

The festival, which is set to run from September 20 to October 1, will welcome tech firms from the Leeds city region, the likes of the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), Ofcom and the G7, as well as a range of speakers from across the UK, Europe and the world, including Japan, the Philippines and Mongolia.

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Stuart Clarke, director of Leeds Digital Festival, said: “I’m delighted to announce that we have 300 incredible events for the 2021 Leeds Digital Festival.

“Having so many quality events is a real testament to the innovative tech firms in the Leeds city region and we can’t wait to show off the talent we have here to a global audience.

““The Leeds Digital Festival has become the largest tech event in the UK because of its open nature and has now been endorsed by the government as an important agenda setting Festival, where anyone from the newest start-up to tech unicorns can take part to help shape the future of digital for the benefit of everyone.”

Last year’s Festival was split into two virtual sets of programmes due to the pandemic. There were a total of 428 events with over 45,000 attendees, attracting attendees from more than 60 countries including Benin, Peru and Kazakhstan.

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Following on from last year, Leeds Digital Festival will adopt a hybrid approach, with a mixture of in-person and online events being held across the two weeks.

Festival organisers say they are looking forward to reintroducing physical events to run alongside the virtual programme, helping build the festival’s reputation on both a national and a global scale.

It is being billed as “the tech event for everyone” and will celebrate everything that encompasses technology and digital, from coding, fintech and social media, to Artificial Intelligence and healthcare tech.

Keynote events will include an LGBTQ+ hackathon hosted by The Coders Guild and the launch of a report by WILD, formerly known as Women in Leeds Digital, on the findings of its racial diversity in digital survey.

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The project is carrying out surveys as well as interviews to gain a better understanding of how to improve diversity in the sector.

Sarah Tulip, co-founder of WILD, said: “At Leeds Digital Festival we’re going to publish the report and use it as an opportunity to play it back to the city.

“Then we hope that what we can do as a city is to set an example for other cities.”

Ms Tulip, who is also head of digital transformation at Leeds-based technology consultancy BJSS, believes there needs to be a more in-depth understanding of racial diversity that goes beyond the catch-all BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) phrase.

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“You can’t group humans into just non-white,” she says. “How do you understand communities and groups of people if you do that?”

Mr Clarke’s interest in the tech sector sparked while he was doing marketing for financial services firms. They were increasingly looking to jump into the tech space.

He said: “I thought there wasn’t a great deal of tech knowledge in some of the financial services firms in terms of the products they were developing. So how could I be some sort of go-between between the tech world and the financial services world. Since then it’s broadened out.

“I do very little with financial services now. It’s mainly in pure tech.”

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The concept of Leeds Digital Festival came about during a meeting at the pub.

Mr Clarke said: “Going back to July 2015, Leeds City Council had a digital summit and a bunch of us decided then to say what can we do?

“It’s not just down to the council, the Government and the LEP.

“A dozen of us met in the pub to see what we could do. The idea for the festival came from there.”

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The festival has now grown to become one of the leading tech festivals in the country, attracting an increasingly global audience.

Matt Warman, Minister for Digital Infrastructure, said: “Leeds Digital Festival is a major moment in the UK’s business calendar and I’m looking forward to taking part this year to celebrate the region’s fantastic scene.

“It’s great to see attendees from around the world joining the bill and highlighting the global importance of the event.”

To find out more about Leeds Digital Festival and view the full programme of events visit: www.leedsdigtalfestival.org

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High-profile companies and institutions have thrown their weight behind the festival with the likes of BJSS, TPP, the University of Leeds and Crisp all being confirmed as lead sponsors for the event.

Adam Hildreth, founder and CEO of Crisp, said: “As a Leeds-born and bred tech firm, we’re really pleased to be one of the Leeds Digital Festival’s Premier sponsors again, and also hosting our own events.

“The growth of the Festival has shone a light on the growing tech firms in the city and its strength in areas such as healthtech and data, as well as fast becoming a driving force in the UK’s online Safety Tech sector.

“We’re looking forward to taking part in yet another successful Festival.”


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