Four years ago the three founders of Yorkshire Digital embarked on a mission to increase the visibility of the county’s tech and digital events.
Yorkshire Digital began life as a newsletter that went out to local communities advertising technical meetups. Over time its three co-founders – Dan Manton, Macs Dickinson and Lynden Oliver – evolved the platform into a public calendar.
For Harvey Nash consultant Manton, the Yorkshire Digital brand transcends events to promote collaboration, networking and community in the region’s tech sector.
He believes that corporates in Yorkshire could play a greater role when it comes to hosting events and integrating into local communities, something that he says is in their best interests as the industry heads into the age of “digital transformation”.
We spoke to Manton to find out more.
What is your perception of the tech scene in Yorkshire?
Dan Manton: I think it’s really vibrant. A few years ago it was built around a very underground network, which was interesting and inspired me to do something in digital. There’s been a greater focus on tech in recent years, and people are now collaborating and talking more than ever.
Why did you start Yorkshire Digital?
Macs, Lynden and I saw people in the tech space working in pockets and thought it would be great if everybody was headed in one direction with a common goal. We wanted to set the scene, so we took it upon ourselves to get our faces noticed at every single meetup in Leeds. We started by asking usergroup organisers what they wanted and how we could help.
Everybody said the same thing – that there was no visibility of what was going on or what events were happening. We took it upon ourselves to drive numbers to usergroup events using cross-collaboration, which is central to the Yorkshire Digital brand. Our goal to help people in the tech community share knowledge, get new connections and whatever else they needed.
What did the calendar look like in the early days?
It was a newsletter that we pinged out to loads of people. That kind of got old and boring, so we turned it into a calendar space and platform.
How was the reception to Yorkshire Digital?
It’s done really well, and I think the branding has been great from Lynden. Max has been great at building it, and I’ve pushed it out and talked about it. People have used the site at a lot, and I hope they’ve had positive things to say about it.
How do you decide which events go on the calendar?
We have a Slack group with all of the Yorkshire technology group organisers. If anybody wants an event on there, we put it on. Adding events is mostly done manually so it takes a bit of time, but we have Meetup and Eventbrite integration on there too.
We’ve found that there are many vertically aligned and recurring events like Leeds# and Hey. It’s ever-growing and there’s new ones coming up all the time, such as a new data event in a few weeks that we’re helping out.
What challenges do people face in putting on events?
A real challenge is finding the time – people who are active in the community have day jobs and do it for free off their own back. I know I’ve given up a lot of my time building networks in evenings. Then there’s a lack of investment. If you’re talking about sponsorship and events, people are more than happy to put up some cash for a space, beers, pizza or whatever. And that’s good – there are many figures in places like Sheffield, Hull and Leeds doing it.
But in my opinion we need to focus on what we’re doing as a region and how we improve that, complementing rather than competing with each other. It’s great that everybody’s doing this out of their spare time and are passionate about it, but being too competitive makes what we’re doing less scalable.
Does the tech sector in Yorkshire have a PR problem?
Definitely – it’s a classic Yorkshire thing and getting the big drum out and beating it was a big initiative for us and part of why Yorkshire Digital was created. We’re doing great things here that don’t get talked about, some of it in collaborative spaces like Futurelabs and Duke Studios in Leeds, and Electric Works in Sheffield.
Should corporates do more to help out on the events side?
Yes – 100 percent. I talk to corporates about what they’re doing in communities and the blatant answer is often nothing. A few like Sky have done huge amounts in the tech community and made a very vibrant scene which is great. Sky Bet is on the up too. Other organisations complain that companies are hoovering up the talent, but I tell them that the talent is out there – they just need to go find the communities and talk about their own brand and how they can help out. So they should be taking that responsibility on themselves as it’s great for them – it’s a branding opportunity and great pipelining. I can’t see a downside.
What is the next big tech trend in Yorkshire?
It’s all about digital transformation – how traditional businesses move into the modern era and underpin what they do with tech. For example, those in the insurance sector are going through a digital transformation because they believe in five years’ time that people will be claiming through an app, rather than calling in. Organisations are looking at what will happen down the line and preparing their strategies now to get ahead of competitors.
Featured image credit: Mark Stephenson / Flickr
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