Derry2.0 - Save the date: Culture Tech Festival

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For four days at the end of August this year, Derry will play host to a major festival of digital culture and technologies covering everything from music to film, games to digital arts.

The official unveiling isn’t for a few weeks yet but I thought I’d give you the chance to pop the dates in your diary – Wed, August 29th to Sat, Sept 1st.

We’ll be looking for all sorts of people to get involved as volunteers, artists and even hosting their own events and parties alongside the main festival programme. So, start thinking about how you might like to be involved. The main criteria are that your ideas need to be innovative, they need to be fun and, most importantly, they need to be super cool.

We’ll be putting out a call for people to get involved a bit further down the road, but if there’s anything you’d like to discuss now, feel free to drop me a line.

Now work really starts

The deadline for the Culture Tech fund is today and without pre-empting the entries yet to come, we’re already blown away by the quality - and quantity - of projects being put forward. Considering the 17+ projects that got funded in the 2011 Creative Industries Innovation Fund call, the nine Magee students who started digital businesses last week as part of their degree courses and the four local businesses who have been shortlisted in the BBC Big Screens call, there is, absolutely, a hell of a lot of talent out there.

By my reckoning I have seen over 40 proposed digital media businesses or projects in the last few months. Unfortunately that’s not the same as 40+ companies. And that’s where we need to start focusing our attentions.

So what’s the difference between a good project idea and a good business?

Well, first off not all projects make good businesses - and that’s fine. One of the reasons we’ve been so keen to make small amounts of money relatively easy to come by is that it encourages experimentation. The fact that some of the projects we support or fund never go much further is OK. It’s the price of innovation. That said, those ideas that could go further don’t always realise their potential - and there are a few common reasons.

Lack of ambition is particularly common and disheartening. Not wanting to take over the world is fine. Not wanting anything more than a great ‘lifestyle’ business is fine too. However, thinking that you can sustain a business by trading only in Northern Ireland is not fine. Digital companies need to be export businesses. Setting your sights so low that even a ‘win’ isn’t exciting is not fine either. Your business needs to motivate others to get involved.

Digital businesses also need to make money, just like any other business. We see too many proposals that rely exclusively on public funding, not only to start off but to actually survive. This is not OK. If you don’t know how you might make money, start thinking about it. You might not be 100% certain but you need to know your options.

Along the same lines too many projects simply never get off the ground if they don’t receive funding through an application form. There are lots of ways to fund new projects - public funding pots are just one - and if you aren’t committed to making it happen regardless, you’re not likely to succeed in the longer-term anyway. Think of it like a sales process; you wouldn’t expect to knock on one door and sell 100% of the time. The more doors you knock on the better your chances of success. And if you knock on enough doors, you nearly always get there in the end. I applaud everyone who has or will apply to Culture Tech, but for most it should be the first, not the only, pitch they make.

And that ability to make a good pitch is the final reason many good ideas go no further. The idea may be sound and you may be the perfect person to deliver it, but, if you can’t make a compelling case in writing or in person, you will struggle to get the support that you need. Enthusiasm and a ‘can do’ attitude goes a long way here and we have too many pessimists in the system right now.

It’s brilliant to see so many exciting projects being proposed. It tells us that there is undoubted potential in the city and that it’s worth supporting. But whether or not we fund any particular project, great businesses backed by great people will find a way to make things happen.

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