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Digital City Festival 2023: All the highlights


There was a buzz in Manchester last week as digital and tech leaders came together for a week filled with inspiring talks, interactive sessions and thought-provoking panel discussions during Digital City Festival.

Three specially curated events were hosted by Prolific North, tackling both the pressing issues and opportunities facing the digital community, alongside a variety of exciting partner events and a special after party to end the week. 

Top industry figures featured as speakers during the festival, from the likes of boohoo, AO, Microsoft, Starling Bank, Manchester City Council and plenty more! One week on, here are our top highlights from another jam-packed Digital City Festival.

Digital Leaders Summit and Reception

The festival kicked off on Thursday 23rd March for a special invite-only Digital Leaders Summit and Reception, hosted at Bruntwood SciTech’s The Bright Building.

Bev Craig, the leader of Manchester City Council, opened the event describing the festival as “timely” after Greater Manchester secured a trade deal with North Carolina and touched on the importance of devolution and digital inclusion for the region.

Leaders from TalkTalk, Tech Returners, Bruntwood SciTech and Code Your Future joined Eamonn O’Brien, GMCA Lead for Education, Skills, Work, Apprenticeships & Digital, on stage for an inspiring panel session. Devolution and digital inclusion continued to be important themes as well as having the right infrastructure in place across the North and “opening up the doors for as many people as possible.”

We heard from Anthony Levy, CEO and founder of Circularity First, who delivered a special talk with advice on reducing the impact of tech to be more sustainable and had an insightful panel discussion between Nick Drewett, chief commercial officer at Engine by Starling Bank and Carlton Hopper, UK managing director at GFT on the power of cloud for digital transformation. The duo also delved into how Manchester is a fintech hub equipped with an accessible talent pipeline that has an “entrepreneurial spirit”.

Following a variety of special roundtable discussions, attendees headed over to Bruntwood SciTech’s stunning Base venue for an evening with canapes, drinks and networking.

Take a look at the full highlights here.

The Tech Debrief

At Bruntwood SciTech’s The Bright Building, industry leaders and senior decision-makers across the tech world came together for a series of panel discussions and special sessions at The Tech Debrief.

Chaired by Manchester City Council’s digital strategy lead Sherelle Fairweather, the event started off with a fantastic panel session on tech for good. Sherelle was joined by leaders from Praetura Ventures, tech for good developer Culture Shift, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Kira Allman, senior digital strategy officer for Manchester City Council. Key takeaways: there needs to be more diverse perspectives to fuel tech innovation and regulation is the “only way” forward for companies to behave ethically.

It was followed by an insightful talk between Colin Greene, ex-Apple and VC partner at Praetura Ventures and Mark Hartley, founder of Manchester-based fintech BankiFi on their pearls of wisdom and advice for scaling internationally. 

A CTO panel chaired by Sue Daley, director of innovation at techUK, followed. Joined by leaders from wi-Q Technologies, DXC Technology, Slalom and Triangulate Distribution, the panel addressed the importance of emerging technologies. There’s no surprise that AI was a hot topic alongside the metaverse, but a key theme was if technology is to thrive, there needs to be convergence of tech and empowering staff with the skills to use emerging technologies will be vital for the future.

Tackling cyber attacks was next, with an important talk by Stewart Boutcher, CTO at Veracity Trust Network. From myths about cyber security to highlighting alarming stats about cyber crime, he offered a number of practical solutions to reduce the risk of cyber attacks.

A special panel discussion chaired by Kelly Bailey, business development director at GC Education and Skills, offered valuable insights on what’s facing the tech sector and how to tackle the skills gap. She was joined by leaders from Bruntwood SciTech, Business Growth Hub (part of The Growth Company), The and a former apprentice.

Emma-Louise Furasi, founder and clinical director at In-House Health and Caroline Canty, founder and director of Craft Coaching, delivered an important talk exploring the impact of stress on innovation with some real food for thought. We were able to demystify AI during a special panel session led by Sherin Mathew, founder and CEO at AI Tech UK and discovered everything about GreenCoding and how to cut carbon with code with GFT.

All the highlights from The Tech Debrief.

Scaling for Growth

Another specially curated event during the festival was for senior marketers at Scaling for Growth, hosted at Bruntwood SciTech’s The Bright Building on Wednesday 29th March.

Highlights included an incredible session chaired by Becky Willis, Just After Midnight’s new business director, alongside Arafa Heneghan, director of brand at AO; Amy Woods, podcaster, author and founder of Context 10x; Ellie England, commercial director at Microsoft and Anthony Diver, chief creative officer at Mosquito (part of CTI Group). There were lots of key takeaways from the panel – from tapping into influencers, embracing new tools in the marketing mix, “purposeful marketing”, and thinking about creating “genuine, authentic and inclusive experiences with customers.”

Rosa Mitchell, business director at Leeds-based digital marketing agency Connective3, delivered a really thought-provoking session on how to deliver creative campaigns that are on brand that can improve overall digital performance. We then explored the world of Connected TV and how it can be used to reach audiences with Jack Sullivan, business development lead at MiQ who was joined by Joe Wood, regional sales director at Samba TV. Simon Bollon, founder and CEO of Leeds agency BOUTIQUE, delivered a fascinating talk on his agency’s very own DISCO model that drives marketing performance. 

Jon Davies, partner at Chatter Communications and Stewart Boutcher, CTO of Veracity Trust Network dipped into real-world experiences navigating those pesky bots and how to overcome fake traffic in marketing campaigns. Emily Maddox, digital growth consultant and retention expert at Insider, followed and addressed the customer loyalty landscape during her talk on The 2023 Blueprint for Customer Loyalty. 

Will Clayton, head of innovation at Boohoo, hosted a special keynote session on unlocking innovation – you “can’t get to the sexy without doing the basics!” StackAdapt’s senior sales director James Hutchinson then took to the stage to explore trends and insights around multi-channel advertising and discussed the benefits of using a multi-channel approach.

The last talk to wrap up the day was with Amy Woods, Podcaster, Author and Founder of Content 10x. She provided valuable insights about embracing a “doing more with less” approach to content and how to implement an effective content repurposing strategy.

Here’s all the highlights from Scaling for Growth if you missed it!

Digital City Festival Wrap Party

At the iconic Manchester venue SITU, The Alan, there was a special after party to celebrate Digital Festival and those working across the entire creative, marketing, tech and digital sectors on Thursday 30th March.

Brought to you by our sponsors Just After Midnight and event partner GigPig on Thursday 30th March to wrap up a busy week, there were delicious cocktails courtesy of Cazacabel tequila, an exclusive performance from up-and-coming artist Anna Kathryn Lynch and a very special DJ for the night, GigPig’s co-founder Kit Muir-Rogers who is also part of the Manchester-based DJ collective and party starters Bad Fun.

Partner events

There were a selection of incredible partner events taking place across Digital City Festival week, kicking off with Tech Nation’s farewell with the launch of its final report, AI and the future of digital with Colony CoWork and an event hosted by Manchester Digital Security Hub (DiSH) on supporting GM Social Enterprise. There was also a special fringe event with Umbraco and CTI Digital and the launch of Greater Manchester’s much anticipated fintech report with Whitecap Consulting in partnership with Fintech North.

Digital Bites with connective3 was the perfect event for digital marketer looking for pearls of wisdom and quick tips, Independent Training Provider Access Creative College hosted an insightful Employers Advisory Group and Apadmi delved into the world of data with their event Staying afloat in the sea of data.

There will be many more exciting events and programmes to come later in the year – get in touch with the team if you’d like to get involved here. Many thanks goes to all of our sponsors, event partners, speakers and guests for another incredible Digital City Festival.

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