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Thursday 22nd February 2018

In this Q&A we hear from Charlotte Scott, Head of  Marketing and Events at Leeds Digital Festival. Here she tells us more about her career path and what to expect from this year's Leeds Digital Festival...

Tell us a bit about yourself...
Graduating in Joint Honours Chinese and Spanish from the University of Leeds last year, and former Enterprise Scholar, I’ve lived and worked in both China and Spain, and studied subjects ranging from Fashion Design and basic coding to Spanish Law and Economics, and East Asian Regional Political Economy.

Drawing on my personal experiences and those of fellow entrepreneurs, I founded MOTIVATEE, an online shop that donates 40% of its profits to Leeds MIND and host its blog The Anxious Entrepreneur, which tackles all things mental health and business. 

Your current role sees you as Head of Marketing and Events at Leeds Digital Festival, can you tell us more about your role and what drew you to the digital sector?
In terms of my role within the Festival, as a charity that relies on the generosity of its sponsors and partners and the enthusiasm of our event hosts, my principal concern is that our sponsors and event hosts feel supported. Whether that’s in terms of helping to organise venues, advising on event topics and timings, or showing them some love on social media. 

When I’m not darting between meetings and scheduling events, I’m liaising with the creative minds at our partner agencies: Tall, CreativeRace, Engage Interactive and Leeds Tech, and more, to coordinate a campaign in the run-up to the festival. 

I was drawn to the sector more than anything out of curiosity from a sociological perspective on the effects of becoming increasingly immersed in a digital world. From the impact of social media on our mental health to how blockchain could be used to help the dispossessed - not to mention the moral scruples and legal complexities surrounding big data and AI - aspects of digital and tech for which we don’t even have an established legal framework yet.

Meanwhile, as we witness digital innovation propelling the world forward in fascinating ways through technological developments and applied research, my inner entrepreneur couldn’t help but follow the excitement of the opportunity. When I was approached by Festival Director, Stuart Clarke, to become involved in Leeds Digital Festival it seemed like the perfect time to delve into the ideas that will shape our future and help companies and organisations share them with the world.

For those who aren’t familiar with Leeds Digital Festival, what’s it all about?
Leeds Digital Festival is a city-wide festival,born in 2016 as a celebration of all forms of digital culture. From humble beginnings, Leeds Digital Festival 2017 saw 10,000 attendees visit over 100 events hosted by almost 200 companies and individuals across Leeds. At one point last year we were even trending on Twitter - second only to Ed Sheeran!

Leeds Digital Festival 2018 will see a really wide spread of events from full-day conferences on fintech (FinTech North 2018) and tech development (TechEdge 2018), and seminars on best practises for protecting our children on the internet (Policing the Digital Playground), to an Algorave (#AlgoraveAssembly) and live coding competition (Code in the Dark UK) - so there is something for business moguls, fledgling founders and hardcore developers alike.

How is this year’s festival going to be different to previous years?
This year we’re back and bigger than ever: more events, more attendees, more companies. We’ve teamed up with a host of local agencies for optimum impact, including Finn Communications, Engage Interactive, CreativeRace, Tall, and Leeds.Tech, who are all helping produce a unified campaign that spreads the word beyond Leeds - reaching across the region to Manchester and Sheffield, down to London, and even landing Leeds on the front cover of FinTech Finance Magazine, distributed at the the Paris FinTech Forum 2018.
This year we’re also seeing a number of loose themes arise among the topics of events regarding digital aspects of our culture and society - such as the role women in tech, the digital skills gap, and the moral minefield that is big data and our online privacy. These are gritty topics that need to be discussed - and Leeds Digital Festival provides the perfect platform to explore them. 

And, of course, we've teamed up with Amsource Technology and Ward Hadaway to host our first ever Leeds Digital Festival Awards, where anyone can nominate their own Leeds tech heroes to be recognised for their hard work, innovation and contribution to the digital community.
How can people get involved in hosting an event at Leeds Digital Festival?
We warmly welcome as many people to get involved as possible! We pride ourselves on being an almost entirely open-platform festival - giving our hosts great flexibility and enabling them to showcase themselves in whichever way they feel suitable. The only requirement is that their event is in some way related to digital or technology. It could be a talk, workshop, audience-led discussion, networking event, or an interactive session - it's entirely up to our hosts where they feel their strengths lie and choose how best to engage their audience.
While we don’t have much of a hand in hosting individual events themselves, we’ve collaborated with venues across the city who are generously offering their event spaces out for the duration of the festival (Would You Like A Venue With That…?) and are always happy to provide general guidance, creative venues, stellar speakers or help with engaging attendees. Once our hosts are happy with their event all they need to do is submit it to the Leeds Digital Festival website and they become part of the festival community.


What do you think differentiates Leeds from other digital hubs in the UK?
Thanks to the eight universities connecting the city, Leeds is very young at heart, making it inherently forward-thinking and multi-disciplined, as well as nurturing of a collaborative approach. The student culture here brings with it an almost radical optimism and fresh ideas that provide the bedrock of innovation. This youthful outlook also helps local companies keep their finger on the pulse on emerging market trends as younger people become increasingly immersed in digital living, making Leeds a digital hub that is continually evolving in exciting ways. 
Amsource Technology are co-sponsors (alongside Ward Hadaway) of the Leeds digital festival Awards – an exciting new feature to the events schedule for 2018. Can you tell us more about the awards and the categories open for nominations?
It’s a universally-acknowledged truth among entrepreneurs that you could have the best idea or company in the world but if no one knows about it, it’s dead in the water. The Leeds Digital Festival Awards were born from a desire to put a spotlight on the (perhaps unsung) success of the individuals, projects, startups and established companies at the heart of our digital and tech scene - whether those are local big-hitters, such as Sky Betting & Gaming, fledgling entrepreneurs, or the incubators that nurture them. There are five categories in this year’s awards: Entrepreneur of the Year, Tech Innovation of the Year, Facilitator of the Year, Startup of the Year, One To Watch 2018. 
Individuals who are consistently driving innovation, combining creative thinking and problem-solving to make ideas a reality are worthy nominees of the Entrepreneur of the Year award, while One to Watch 2018 recognises the commitment and hard work of individuals within companies or organisations who go above and beyond to do themselves and their company proud. 

Startup of the Year awards one of Leeds’ most innovative startups and will certainly be a close call with so many dotted around the city which are disrupting industries in all the right ways!

Bridging the gap between companies, organisations and individuals, those who nurture ideas, create the networks at the heart of the digital community, and offer support to digital and tech startups and can be nominated for Facilitator of the Year. 

Meanwhile Tech Innovation of the Year celebrates a ground-breaking piece of research,  project or other work of an organisation or company that pushes the boundaries of possibility in tech and digital.

The Leeds Digital Festival Awards will take place on 25th April with shortlisted nominees attending the ceremony where they put their heads together with the city’s most influential during an evening of celebration.  

Leeds has become a lively breeding ground for tech startups in recent years. Are there any Startups in particular that you are expecting big things from in 2018?
There are too many to choose from - I’m constantly discovering a newly-launched startup that fire off the creative neurons in excitement. Futurelabs favourite and recent Northern Stars pitch winner, Synap are making waves in the EdTech world with their free online quiz creation platform that also work with exam boards and publications to ensure revision is accurate and swift (depending on your subject!) - and proven to increase information retention through personalised learning algorithms. 

They say that when you invest in a startup, you’re actually investing in the people behind it. Founders James Gupta and Omair Vaiyani developed Synap alongside their doctorates in medicine, learned to code to realise their ideas - I couldn’t think of two more entrepreneurs I would be willing to invest in and am looking forward to their next step. 

What would you like to see in future for digital in Leeds?
Leeds is leading the way as the largest knowledge-intensive economy outside of London and a strong digital economy, with £688million gross value added in this sectors alone in its digital and tech sector - but there is still huge potential for growth. I’d like to see Leeds not only fulfil this tech potential and be formally recognised as the Tech Capital of the North, but also be acknowledged on the international stage as a hub of research and development. There are a host of universities and institutes producing world-class research here that approaches data and tech in exciting ways, such as the Open Data Institute (ODI), Leeds Institute of Data Analytics (LIDA), Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC), and digital health innovation lab mHabitat - to name but a few!

Meanwhile NHS Digital, based in Leeds, is updating the NHS for the 21st Century and collaborating with Medtech innovation hubs around the city to drive the future of healthcare. These innovative projects don’t just help the people of the Leeds - this collaborative and multi-disciplined approach is set to benefit the whole of the UK, and the more attention we can give these projects and resources afforded them, the more we all benefit. 

I’d also like to see more recent graduates stay in Leeds to explore their options before rushing elsewhere. There are just under 24,000 digital jobs on offer in Leeds with an advertised salary of £50k with plenty of local companies willing to invest in graduate training. And if they are creatives or entrepreneurs looking beyond a traditional 9 to 5, the city provides every opportunity to nurture ambitious ideas with incubators and accelerators offering their support at every level. With rents almost half the price of London and a reportedly high quality of living, there is no reason why Leeds shouldn’t be the number one destination for young talent. We need to help companies connect with young professionals and advertise their opportunities - and initiatives like Leeds Digital Festival do just that. 

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