Week in Review: Digital City Festival 2020

Josh Peachey's picture

Digital City Festival 2020 has now come to an end, but it has proven itself to be a suitable blueprint for annually bringing together digitally-minded individuals and businesses to embrace new technologies and shape the future. 

The week-long festival was a first for Manchester but the main expo, Digital City Expo, brought together long-standing sector specialist expos such as Marketing Show North - known to be the largest gathering of marketers outside London each year - and others under a new identity that embraces the digital future of business.

In the run-up to the festival’s debut, it was clear that leading local figures and groups were eager to support it. Festival Director Martyn Collins joined Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and others on a delegation to India to strengthen tech relations and investment for the city and Burnham himself said DCF “can be UK’s South by Southwest” at the official festival launch event.

The ambitions for festival week were clear from the outset: anybody with an interest in digital can be involved in some way, shape or form. The raft of daily fringe events throughout the week, put on by a number of different grassroots groups, SMEs, and global tech firms, is a testament to the community’s ambition to be a part of it.

To complement the buzz of activity from some incredibly successful and talented groups, the first-ever Digital City Awards celebrated and rewarded the work done by many operating in the digital world.  

Find out who was involved and what happened on each day of the festival in the recap below: 

Monday 9th

After months and months of preparation, Digital City Festival finally arrived and kicked off with a formal welcome at Boohoo’s Nasty Gal offices. Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham addressed attendees, saying that DCF was already adding "energy, excitement and momentum" to the city. 

He focused on the need to grow the talent pipeline, adding: “We want the 10 boroughs around Manchester to act as a pipeline into the skyscrapers in the city. That's why we're investing massively into talent with initiatives like digital conversion courses.”

"The greatest asset of Greater Manchester is its people - we just need to be better at bringing it out."

Jo Graham, CIO at Boohoo, Patrick Gormley, Head of Offering Development at Capita Consulting, and Martyn Collins, Digital City Festival Director also spoke at the event.

Monday’s fringe events included discussion and networking events centred around ethical tech, smart cities, stress and creativity, and even a Google Garage Digital Skills event. The evening’s fringe events included AND Digital’s talk on being agile, a RegTech Talk on innovation in manufacturing and Hootsuite’s SocialMCR which brought together social media pros.

Tuesday 10th

Tuesday morning saw more engaging fringe events dotted around the city, including a House of Startups session at WeWork Labs, an afternoon discussion at the Deloitte offices about Manchester-India trade opportunities, a FemaleTechFounder night and more.

Tuesday evening also saw the Leaders’ Reception event at Hilton Deansgate’s Cloud 23, sponsored by iomart - a bustling room overlooking the sprawling city centre where a variety of business figures met to discuss how digital will help shape their respective sectors.

The event’s Guest of Honour, Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Digital Lead, Cllr Elise Wilson, took the opportunity to restate Manchester’s ambition to be a top five European digital hub.

Wilson's message was of optimism for not just the week of digital events, but for the city's digital future as a whole. "The people of Greater Manchester are at the heart of what we're doing," she said. "It's how we work together that's going to set us apart.”

In Manchester, Elise said, "people think the worker bee [symbol] is because we're busy working... It's really because bees go out and share, then come back and make something amazing."

Wednesday 11th

The mid-way point of festival week meant that the first-ever Digital City Expo had arrived. Lasting two days, the expo took place in the main hall at Manchester Central Convention Complex, where exhibitors had been preparing their stands since Monday.

With the ambition of nurturing meaningful connections and providing valuable content, the new umbrella brand and venue for the likes of Marketing Show North, eCommerce Show North and Tech Show North was a huge success. The space enabled key sectors to have multiple dedicated theatres, all of which had impressive crowds throughout the day. 

Many of the exhibitors had put some serious thought into the interactivity of their stands, which meant that they always had visitors asking for more information. Those who visited the expo’s biggest stage, the Keynote Theatre, witnessed talks on AI and Data from MIDAS and GMCA, Adyen’s Colin Neil explaining how to build an agile business, Rob Sedman from IBM talking about the city becoming a cyber superhub and more.

After delegates had left, the DJ entertained many of the exhibitors over some drinks at the main bar, before international digital agency Dept put on a Day One afterparty at Viadux. This featured a popular food stand, more drinks, and some extremely tall ‘robot’ entertainers. 

Thursday 12th

Day Two of the expo saw more delegates coming back to the main hall to meet others, discuss embracing digital innovation, and hear from even more influential speakers. Talks on the second day of the expo included a panel discussion on closing the diversity gap in the northern tech industry, experts sharing their advice to help marketers deal with changes to cookies, embracing the future of TV, creating a sustainable eCommerce strategy and much more.

The total attendance for Digital City Expo was over 4,300 which was a fantastic result and shows real promise for the future of the festival. Some exhibition space for next year’s expo has already been sold to companies looking to align themselves with DCF, going from strength to strength next year. 

There were, of course, fringe events going on across both Wednesday and Thursday whilst the expo was taking place. The BBC held a Tech Meetup session and there was also a special fringe event also inside Manchester Central for expo delegates. MIDAS, collaborated with both the Business Growth Hub and the Department for International Trade for a startup pitch event which saw small business owners show off their solutions and products to the likes of City Football Group, N Brown Group, Manchester Central and AO.com. 

The highlight of Thursday evening was the first-ever Digital City Awards at Albert Hall, presented by the radio legend Chelsea Norris. Guests from a range of tech-savvy companies dressed up for a drinks reception before enjoying a three-course meal and then celebrating the best in digital. Click here to find out who the Digital City Awards winners were.

Friday 13th

Despite one hoot of a night out before at the Digital City Awards, there were still companies hosting events for the digital world on Friday. 

Deliver Conference 2020 continued at the Bridgewater Hall and Tech Manchester ran a LinkedIn workshop, to complement the company’s mentor match-up sessions earlier in the week. There were also more ethical tech discussions at Federation House, which sought to better shape the considerations we have in the rapidly-evolving digital space. 

The purpose of Digital City Festival was to bring people together, showcase the excellent talent in and work from Northern locations, and to push the essential conversations forward. A huge thanks go out to everyone who got involved - it goes without saying that none of it would be possible if you hadn’t done so - the attendees, the speakers, the fringe event organisers, and our co-organisers at Don’t Panic Projects.

We hope you enjoyed it and we can’t wait to bring it back bigger and better next year. 

Digital City Festival Sponsors