Wales’ Digital festival last month saw 2,000 innovators, investors, and industry leading experts in technology engage in a dynamic mix of interactive workshops, round table discussions, pitches, expos, and networking – all served up with a side of street food. David Warrender, Chief Executive of Innovation Point, the digital innovation company organising the event on behalf of the Welsh Government, explores five trends emerging from the event are set to transform the future of industry in Wales.
Start-ups to stay and grow
And London might just be losing its appeal. Cities like Cardiff and Swansea are simply more accessible for innovators with big ideas and smaller budgets, particularly due to the support of Welsh Government-backed initiatives like the Digital Dozen – the first national technology accelerator launched in Wales, fast-tracking start-ups like fund management platform Disberse and house-hunting app University Cribs to financial prosperity.
London is full; start-ups are swimming against the tide there and many are drowning beneath excessive overhead costs and vast competition. Chris Ganje, an American who heads up artificial intelligence (AI) and deep web mining company AMPLYFI, selected Cardiff as the city to headquarter in. When screening for the best location to start-up and scale-up their business, Chris’ team took an unbiased look at the international landscape of potential cities. On a number of key metrics such as advantaged access to top talent, multiple channels to leverage finance, and world-class government support, Cardiff came ahead of cities such as Beijing, San Francisco, Berlin, and London. For AMPLYFI, it has proven to be the best place to start, grow, or invest in a business anywhere in the UK.
Local SMEs to shine on the stock exchange
You might think that public trading is only a viable option for big companies, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. More than 99 per cent of Welsh companies are small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), and if there’s one thing we learned at Digital, it’s that a company doesn’t have to be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary and turning over hundreds of millions to get publicly listed on London markets like the AIM.
Emma Titmus, primary markets manager at London Stock Exchange Group (LSEG), delivered a workshop looking at the ways in which Welsh SMEs can access finance for future growth. Emma spoke of south Wales as a real hub for disruptive technology businesses, and spent an afternoon on the GoCompare boat working with ambitious companies passionate about growth. Emma’s session highlighted the accessibility of LSEG’s support services for small companies looking to go big, such as the ELITE programme, which currently includes Welsh Business OpenGenius, the team behind iMindMap and DropTask. Chris Griffiths, CEO of Open Genius, live streamed to Digital to share his story of working with LSEG, and the company is just one example of a Welsh enterprise gearing up for growth through the public markets. Expect more to follow.
Wales set to drive Internet of Things revolution
The Internet of Things (IoT) was a key topic of conversation at Digital. Digital had one of the world’s most influential IoT experts, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, speaking at the festival and highlighting examples of the IoT in action. This included a smart socket that helps monitor the welfare of elderly people, and restaurant kitchen scales that ask staff why they’re throwing food away in a bid to cut down needless waste. She also argued that Wales has a competitive advantage over London because of its manufacturing capabilities – combined with the innovation coming from our start-ups, Wales is becoming a force to be reckoned with as the IoT industry evolves.
The emergence of 5G technology means we’re looking at a world with even more connected transport systems, energy and health networks through to simpler objects that make homes better to live in, all collecting, transmitting, and analysing data. AI has been making its way into homes already, with the likes of Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa becoming less gimmicky and proving more useful in delivering real benefits to the consumer. Wales is positioned to be a real driver in the development of technology in the IoT industry – look out for some exciting announcements at Innovation Point to follow soon on this.
Smart cities will benefit everyone
Smart cities – another hot topic of conversation at the festival – are set to change the lives of urban dwellers in the future. Excitement is building at just how technology can make our cities better places in which to live, work, and play. AI expert, Inma Martinez, delivered a talk on the future of smart cities here in Wales. We effectively have blank canvasses here, with our cities ready to embrace digital innovation and creativity without following strict prototypes. As an example, Inma looked to Boston in the USA where the local authorities released all public data so that residents were able to see how their city was performing in areas ranging from public services to waste management. We’ve seen other examples of location trackers being fitted to waste products, enabling cities to map how far their waste is travelling to help improve efficiency, roads that can automatically detect potholes and relay this data to the authorities, and smart electric grids that will bring eco-friendly energy to homes at a lower cost. The Cardiff Capital Region and Swansea Bay City deals provide the perfect opportunity to drive this agenda forward.
Festivals are the future of networking
We knew this before we started. In its traditional setting, a business conference can limit creative thinking and productivity. At its new home in Tramshed and Tramshed Tech, the heart of Cardiff’s new hub for the creative and technological industries, more than 50% of Digital delegates said they’d secured new business opportunities through the festival. It’s clear to see that the future of networking involves quick-fire pitches, versatile workshops, and a touch of street food spice.