As the Leeds City Council’s Chief Officer of Economic Development and a Leeds Digital Festival Awards judge, few people are as in tune with the local economy and the health of the sectors within that as Eve Roodhouse.
With the Awards now rescheduled for the 30th of September, we caught up with Eve to gather her thoughts about the resilience shown by the tech sector in the Leeds City Region, the importance of tech businesses to the area, her thoughts on the awards and what criteria she judges nominees on.
Amsource: Eve, thank you for taking the time to speak to us! What was it about the Leeds Digital Festival Awards that initially made you want to get involved?
Eve: I think the Awards are a really important opportunity to highlight some of the amazing businesses and individuals that we’ve got in the Digital sector across the city and the region. We need to take a moment to celebrate and identify them because it provides a real boost to those individuals and organizations to be recognized in this way as well, and to receive acknowledgment of what they have been doing.
A: Do you think the main value of the Awards is to shine a spotlight on those businesses and individuals that deserve a bit of a boost?
E: I think I would say that’s the primary value, but there’s also a secondary value – which is that it’s a really fantastic way to show the rest of the North what we’ve got here in Leeds and also to give those individuals a bit of a platform outside of the city. If they’re in the process of growing their business and are looking to get more exposure for themselves, it can help trading. I think it’s really helpful from that perspective as well so there’s definitely two dimensions to it.
A: With so many big tech businesses in the city, tech is quite a large part of the local economy now isn’t it?
E: Yes the tech sector is really important to Leeds. As a council we’ve done a lot of work to support the digital sector over the past 4/5 years in particular, and what I would say is that this is even more important now than it was before Covid-19.
The digital sector has probably been impacted much less than the rest of the economy and in fact has probably been presented with quite a lot of opportunities. I’m sure that’s not entirely universal but compared to other sectors, the digital sector is definitely getting through this much stronger and I can see how there’s lots of opportunities for the digital sector coming forwards.
What we’ve seen across the broader economy is sectors like manufacturing adopting digital technologies that they haven’t done before because they’ve had to innovate, and I think that presents great opportunities for some of our entrepreneurs and our businesses of all sizes.
A: You mentioned then that over the past 4/5 years the council have done more to support tech as a sector, what exactly have those initiatives been?
E: So we do a range of things. We’ve been sponsors of the Leeds Digital Festival since it started and we’re really proud to support the Digital Festival and see how that’s grown over the years. We think that the Digital Festival alone has been an incredible success for the city in terms of helping amplify what’s already going on in the city and it’s a fabulous collaborative event.
But we’ve also invested in supporting networks like FinTech North. Also, before FinTech North came about, we helped with the mapping of FinTech. We’ve worked with a number of partners to get a similar initiative off the ground on Legal Tech which is underway at the moment. We’ve also provided support to North Invest as they’ve got going, in terms of providing access to more funding for entrepreneurs in the digital sector.
So it’s a whole range of things really. We do tend to support some of the networks promoting diversity in tech like empowering women in tech and the women of Leeds Digital as well.
A: Is one of the advantages perhaps that the council maybe looking to show prospective businesses that might be looking at Leeds to come and base themselves that this is a place that has a thriving tech community as well?
E: Yes absolutely. The piece of work we’re doing at the moment on FinTech mapping and the work we’re now doing on Legal Tech is absolutely about that. It has multiple aims of bringing together stakeholders across the city to make sure that they understand just how fantastic the assets are that we have collectively.
It also provides a way to present to prospective inward investors this is a great place to bring your business. The announcement that Iwoca made about opening their second office in Leeds that was informed by information that we were able to provide as a consequence of that FinTech mapping to show the collective potential of Leeds as a destination for that business. So absolutely there is an inward investment angle to some of the work we do as well.
A: In your opinion, why should people submit nominations for the Leeds Digital Festival Awards?
E: I think it’s a great way to put forward an individual or organization that you think do brilliant things and to give them a boost. Particularly now businesses have just gone through a patch of Covid-19 response where someone has been working incredibly hard or a business has really shone through in terms of how they’ve pivoted in response to Covid-19 and they’re a kind of upcoming business in the city.
A: Do you think given the ongoing success in tech in the face of adversity is enough reason to hold the Awards? and underline that we still have things to celebrate and be positive about despite the challenges of this year?
E: Yes absolutely I would agree with that, and there is much for us to feel optimistic about in the city. This is a great way of us showcasing some of the areas where we can still do a lot together as a region.
We are going to have our challenges in terms of the economy, but I think the tech and digital sector has a big role to play in terms of the momentum that the sector has, and how the sector can play it’s role in supporting the city and the region during this recovery. This is a brilliant way to build further momentum and show where those stars are in our tech and digital sector.
A: As a Leeds Digital Festival Awards judge, what do you look out for? What’s in your judging criteria?
E: What will I be looking out for? I think I’ll be looking out for good ideas, so I like to see business that have got really good products and services that are great ideas.
But I’ll also be looking out for leadership and how people are either leading the way in terms of their business or individually, and showing how we can have really forward thinking businesses. I like to look at how businesses operate, whether that’s around addressing diversity – either diversity of thought or diversity of talent. I also like to ask how are some of these businesses collaborating with one another to really make a difference and drive forwards.
A: That was a really good catch up, thank you again for taking the time to speak to us!
E: It was my pleasure, and thank you Amsource for sponsoring the Awards!
The rescheduled Leeds Digital Festival Awards will now be held on the 30th of September, with the final format yet to be confirmed. Nominations have reopened and will be running until the 7th of August – please CLICK HERE to register an entry.