The director of the Leeds Digital Festival says the city is now attracting students and start-ups away from London.

Stuart Clarke is advisor and non-executive director to a number of start-ups and is also behind the London to Leeds project, a co-founder of Media Yorkshire and member of the Leeds Digital Board.

With a marketing background, Clarke sees the value in selling Leeds to post-grads and would-be entrepreneurs.

“The London to Leeds project encourages start-ups and tech companies in London to visit Leeds and find out what a great, digitally-connected city it is, brimming with talent,” he told Amsource Technology.

“I take visitors on a walk through the city centre, that usually ends up walking through the Victoria Quarter and then to a bar like Headrow House; even die-hard Londoners are impressed with the buzz of the city.

“We’re seeing more students stay in the city after graduation to build their start-up; they no longer feel that London is the only place to be.”

He cited the example of Signin, a start-up which connects universities, students and graduates to match internships and graduate roles with the right applicants.

“The founder, George Biddle, is a great example of Leeds keeping hold of its students,” he said.

“Originally from Solihull, after graduating from Leeds University George could have set up Signin in London or back home, but wanted to stay in Leeds because it has everything he needs to build a successful company.

“London obviously has many things going for it, it’s the tech capital of Europe, but it doesn’t suit everyone.

“The biggest difference in Leeds to other cities is that we’re much more collaborative. The scale of the city helps; even though Leeds is the third biggest city in the UK, the compact size of the city centre makes it easier to work with other companies. 

“Plus your funding can go much further in Leeds.”

The first Leeds Digital Festival in 2016 saw 56 events, while the 2017 version had 115 events, with 10,000 attendees listening from more than 400 speakers across 58 venues.

 “I took on the role as festival director to see if we could get a festival going. Leeds City Council helped us with a grant, then we brought other sponsors on board and before we knew it, three months later we had the first festival happening,” Clarke said.

“Any conversation about the digital sector in Leeds invariably ends up as a discussion about skills and talent. We do need more people to fill the vacant roles and as a city we’ve seen some really positive moves over the last couple of years.

“The universities and companies are closer than ever, which helps to keep graduates in the city; bigger firms such as Sky Bet and NHS Digital are also investing heavily in apprenticeships and graduate schemes.  

“As a city, we’re now making more noise about how great it is to live and work here, and that promotion is bringing people to the city to work.

“With a mix of homegrown talent, graduates staying in the city and people moving to Leeds, we should keep the talent pipeline topped up.”