First time Digital Shoreditch Festival ignites excitement and encourages collaboration
It isn’t often you get to wander about the streets of London, popping into offices to see what the workspace is like, and to gather and mix with many of London’s digital superstars, until the first Digital Shoreditch Festival held last week.
The festival week (3-7 May 2011) was packed with activities that showcased the digital talent found in the thriving area of East London’s Shoreditch, with 200 companies being involved. With the mission of bringing the area together, so that cross-pollination of ideas and business collaboration can happen more, the organizer’s PlayGen have met their goal.
While the area, referred to as a “cluster”, is thriving with small to medium size digital industry companies, some say there tends to be a silo effect, with little organized opportunity to get together and help each other grow. The festival aims to change this situation.
Open Studios were held. I visited We Love Mobile at the TEA Building where Jennifer Hiley greeted guests, with drinks and snacks. The space oozed of creativity, as employees kept busy with work in the open plan loft space of the office they share with communications agency BD. Hiley demonstrated the latest campaigns, including an augmented reality game for Peugeout. Neil Taylor, a software developer and visitor, said he used the Open Studio opportunity to visit several companies he found interesting, and talked to some about possible work opportunities.
Throughout the week, digital projects were on display at offices in the area, and several installations were exhibited in the city streets. The festival also held a full day Summit and offered a Family Day with playful digital interactive art for all ages to enjoy.
At the Summit, a number of digital industry visionaries spoke to attendants. From Unruly Media, Sarah Wood seemed to capture the spirit of the week with a highly charged talk about the underlying factors that make Shoreditch different than the City culture of London. She said East London is filled with more risk takers who enjoy the thrill of the new and have less fear of failure. She said the entrepreneurs operating in Shoreditch are willing to try anything and love the exciting feeling of being on the cutting edge.
“Shoreditch start-ups are often skint, on the verge of bankruptcy and not silver spoon fed, but they have self reliance, are resourceful and thrifty,” she said.
Unruly Media has been located on Brick Lane since 2006. She said of the company “We feel very passionately about the unique identity of the area and its killer combination of creativity plus digital expertise and innovation. Having watched the area changing over the last decade, Digital Shoreditch felt like a ground-breaking event for the digital and creative communities.”
At the Summit, creative networking opportunities were encouraged with the “Dating Wall” inviting attendants to take a look at who was attending, and then link up with each other and talk. The day also featured a Petcha Kutcha session with 21 companies pitching ideas.
Big news was unveiled by the Technology Strategy Board at the Summit, with an invitation to secure £1 million in funding through a new Tech City Launch Pad competition for digital projects in East London. See here for more information.
Beyond the festival week, the organizers plan to establish regular networking events for the area, to keep the energy and momentum alive from the festival, and help the area’s growth.
The festival joins in an increasing focus on technology business in the East London area, with the government proposing its commitment to make the area a new Silicon Valley, calling it Tech City. And already in motion is the growing cluster of technology businesses around the Old Street area, christened by many to be Silicon Roundabout. Perhaps the festival can serve as an umbrella across all these emerging efforts and pull people together toward a common goal.
As Wood comments: “Has Digital Shoreditch kick-started a new wave of collaboration across the digital community in the fast-growing area of Silicon Roundabout? Let’s hope so!”