I wasn’t able to attend the full Digital Shoreditch Festival, just a few days from the second week of scheduled events. That being said, I’m really glad that I witnessed part of the second annual festival of creative, cultural and technological developments within this evolving East London community.
I had mentioned – before my visit – I believe that London, England has some things in common with the emerging tech and digital creative clusters in Austin, Texas. But based upon what I saw and heard during the insightful Digital Shoreditch activities, I’m now thinking that there are more similarities with the New York City clusters.
London has a wealth of creative talent focused on the fashion, architecture and design sectors of the global networked economy. Few places in the world can likely match this amazing combination of artistic assets and intellectual capacity.
Besides, the local higher-education and professional mentoring opportunities are clearly more attuned to the apparent needs of these established industries in London.
Portrait of a Growing Digital Metropolis
Moreover, I believe that comparing the East London scene to the Silicon Valley in California really doesn’t appear to benefit their cause – that is, raising the awareness of the unique attributes in the area, and attracting greater investment in start-ups and early-stage local founded companies.
In fact, having a more diverse and distinctive digital business ecosystem may be the essence of an untold story about the promising upside opportunity for the digital economy to reach its full potential in London.
While there are some of the same essential ingredients within the London scene, the resulting start-up ventures typically aren’t the same profile of computer and software technology-centric companies that you’ll find in abundance within the Valley.
I noticed that East London also appears to have many more advertising and marketing agencies within the emerging clusters – as a percentage of the total number of companies. A panel presenter’s quick poll of the attendees at the Digital Shoreditch Festival actually confirmed my observation.
The established film/video production talent pool, along with the gaming and music technology developer stable, is the solid foundation for a forward-looking digital media powerhouse that’s second to none.
Balancing the Talent Supply and Demand
Prior to attending the festival events in Shoreditch, I was able to arrange a guided tour of the Ravensbourne College facilities, located in North Greenwich. I came away from that experience with raised expectations for the fortunate students that will graduate from one of the college’s progressive hands-on skills development programs.
I had the opportunity to chat with a couple of young entrepreneurs that attribute part of their early success to the multifaceted learning experience that’s being offered by the college.
However, it seemed that while the college is a viable source of candidates for some of the skills needed today, and relocating professionals help fill any void, I wondered if the demand for new digital-savvy talent might exceed supply in the foreseeable future.
Granted, that’s a good problem to have, especially in the current European economic outlook. But maintaining access to a pool of qualified talent -- to fuel and propel cluster growth -- could become a significant challenge, as other cities have already discovered.
Next Steps: the Forward-Looking Perspective
If I were to reflect upon my SXSWi legacy experiences and relate them to my recent observations at the Digital Shoreditch Festival, then I’d offer the following suggestions for the organizer’s consideration:
- Further raise awareness with online content from the event, particularly for those key stakeholders who are unable to attend in person (hint; North American VCs).
- Live stream video from the Summit, create video interviews of keynote presenters and place them in an online showcase.
- Aggregate and curate the most interesting press or blogger coverage about all the events and use that insight to build anticipation for next year’s festival.
- Once the events are over, hold a press conference for the mainstream media and share the summary findings from the researchers that are tracking the progress of the emerging clusters in London.
- Tell the untold story – it’s so much more meaningful and engaging than the comparisons with other more well-known tech clusters.