A note from Marty Reid: Reflections on Bristol Technology Festival 2020

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Bristol Technology Festival was always going to be different this year, but having had a few weeks to reflect on everything that took place, I’m starting to feel that it was quite special. Here are a few things that I took away after a brilliant, busy and inspiring week:

Our technology and business communities are incredibly resilient: Over 50 events. Over 3,500 attendees. No free coffee/cake/wine to help it all along, but a vibrant week of discussion, celebration, challenge and new ideas.

We saw the “creative collisions” needed to spark a better recovery: It felt fitting that the week kicked off with a careers event by the team behind the Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation (DETI) programme and closed with an engagement event from the team leading the Bristol+Bath Creative R+D programme.

We also saw sessions organised by and between local startups, major corporates, universities and research institutes, law firms, recruiters and national and regional public sector teams. We had showcases of greentech, fintech and quantum tech. There was data ethics, B Corp and building back better and forums on investment, leadership and balancing our digital lives.

This diversity of engagement and collaboration is the magic ingredient that tends to spark new ideas and real game changing innovation that create the industries and jobs of tomorrow.

The festival proved that despite the challenges of 2020, our tech community’s capacity for working beyond boundaries is very much still alive and places us in a great place to recover stronger and better.

The regional talent pipeline is stronger than ever: The last 6 months have been incredibly challenging for startup founders. Sourcing funding is difficult in ordinary times, but doubly so when everyone’s cash position is tight and investment took a temporary pause. This challenge has also applied to finding new connections for mentorship, guidance or potential customers, without the regular network of ecosystem meetups.

Despite these challenges, the calibre of emerging ventures on show at events like the Silicon Gorge Investor Showcase,  SETsquared’s  Idea2Pitch and the Quantum Technology Showcase was as good as it has ever been. At just 1 session, Silicon Gorge, I got to see founders describing AI to automate 3D design processes, a new affordable system for early detection of eye disease, an online marketplace for robotics and a rapid diagnostic technology to help fight anti-biotic resistance.

The technologies being shown were cutting edge and potentially far reaching, but also with very compelling business foundations. This emerging generation of business leaders may be brilliant innovators, but they are also learning resilience and adaptability like few before them.

The central theme of BTF2020 was to explore the technologies that will change the city and our world in the next 10 years. I think the city delivered and gave us real reasons for optimism in the years to come.

My thanks go to my colleagues on the launch team who put in many hours between meetings, in evenings and weekends to make sure that this still happened. Most of all though, special thanks go to TechSPARK and their relentless MD Ben Shorrock, without whom we definitely wouldn’t have had a festival to be proud of.

One upside to all of this year’s sessions happening online is that you can still catch up on much of the action. There are over 20 full event recordings already available at https://bristoltechfest.org/

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