Derry2.0 - Digital Derry spends a manic week making connections in South Africa

South Africa might not sound the most obvious place to go looking for potential partners in developing Derry’s digital sector but over the last week it’s more than proved its potential.

Piggybacking on the arrival of Derry-Londonderry’s entry in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, we landed on Tuesday morning after a 12 hour flight from London. The first meeting of the week was a little over two hours later with Rob Stokes from Quirk (www.quirk.biz). Quirk is one of Cape Town’s rising stars in digital marketing (and there are a few) growing to 80+ staff and with offices in Cape Town, Jo’burg and London. We also got some insight into Quirk Labs, an in-house accelerator / incubation project that’s helping build a raft of new spinouts. This is something our better digital media companies and agencies should take a close look at.

Rob is also heading up the Silicon Cape initiative (www.siliconcape.com) - a project with striking similarities to Digital Derry. The idea for Silicon Cape is to position the city as the natural home for the digital sector in Africa, attract investment, support startups and generally raise the temperature. At their own admission, it’s not always been straightforward but, like Digital Derry, they’re having some success in creating a brand under which to drive the sector forward.

Later the same day we touched base with The Call Sheet, a publishing and events business aimed at the SA film and TV industry. Cape Town seems to be the backdrop for a near endless number of ads, TV shows and films - we saw two being shot on the streets while we were there - and they are starting to build up a solid base of post-production service suppliers on the back of this.

In fact it’s this service industry which includes an impressive line-up of design and ad agencies that is most striking about Cape Town’s digital industries. The lifestyle undoubtedly has a lot to do with it, but Cape Town seems to be doing a great job of becoming the creative capital of SA. Meetings with agencies like Quirk, Jupiter Drawing Rooms, Creative Spark, Y&R, Bluegrass Digital and Interactive Africa all served to reinforce this.

Although we don’t have anything like the breadth of digital design companies that we encountered, we do have a surprising amount in common with the digital industries in Cape Town. Our meeting with former VC and active start-up advisor Andrea Bohmert, alongside Johanna Kollar from Google, identified a number of similar challenges - and proposed solutions. Google’s Umbono project for example (www.google.co.za/intl/en/umbono/program.html) is supporting a number of start-up companies with investment and mentoring and their collaborative work space looks a lot like the concepts we’ve been working on. Expect to see some real tangible connections here over the next year.

On a similar note, one of our most inspiring meetings of the week was with Ravi Naidoo, the man behind Design Indaba (www.designindaba.com) - likely the world’s largest design event and recently voted best conference in the world. Design Indaba is a phenomenal example of how a regional city can put itself on a world stage through creative, inspiring events and we’ve already started working on ways that we might be able to include Ravi and Design Indaba in own our digital festival events in 2012 and 2013.

There’s little doubt that we made some great connections in Cape Town but the real outcomes will become even clearer in the months to come. Expect return visits of Capetonians in Derry, tangible trade connections, media coverage and some exciting new joint projects.

Mark Nagurski is Derry’s Digital Champion, based at the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce. You can contact him by email to digitalderry@gmail.com or by visiting www.digitalderry.org