A vision for a future Digital Oxford

Word’s getting out. Oxford is an exciting place for the tech industry. In my recent address at the Future Digital Oxford event, I explained what else the city must do to become a UK digital hub…

Oxford is already a digital city

I addressed over 60 people at the Future Digital Oxford meeting last week. That tells me one thing – the city has an appetite for digital success.

Don’t just take my word for it though. When I last counted there were around 40 local meet-ups and groups that have a digital focus. Take Oxford Geek Night – not only is it one of the oldest, most established in the country, but it’s also one of the best attended.

What’s more, there are some big names backing our city. Many huge digital events are hosted in Oxford each year, like Smashing Mag Conference, jQuery UK, AYB and Silicon Valley comes to Oxford. Plus, the city is home to some national digital agencies and software companies such as Torchbox, Ridgeway – and us of course!

The city is home to a number of big tech start-ups – companies like Holiday Lettings (recently bought by Trip Advisor) and Natural Motion (recently bought by Zynga) are based here.

It’s not just the big guys that like Oxford though – there is a vibrant tech start-up scene. And these start-ups are undoubtedly attracted to the city by a support network that includes the Launchpad at the Saïd Business School, the Student Hub, and ISIS Software Incubator to name a few.

Plus, Oxford already has a massive international brand. And there’s certainly plenty of space to expand into the business parks.

But there’s more work to be done

This is all good news. However, there’s more work to do to ensure Oxford becomes a key UK digital centre.

We’ve been losing out to cities like Bristol, Cambridge, Brighton, Edinburgh and Manchester, who have all been better at promoting themselves as tech centres. I’m going to give it to you straight: Oxford needs to play a little catch up.

The city has a relatively low profile in the tech industry. For a start, we are a glaring omission from the Guardian’s recent tech start-up city features. And while our sector is recognised as one of four driving innovation in the city, the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) said in a recent report that it’s less visible and harder to pin down. This all makes it tough to attract, and keep talent in the city.

Who are Digital Oxford?

In short then, Oxford is in a sweet spot. But we’ve got some work to do to imprint it on the UK’s digital map. That’s why Digital Oxford was born.

The vision: to promote and support Oxford as a centre of digital talent, ideas and opportunity. Originally created by Torchbox and White October 18 months ago, we are about to formalise the organisation as a not-for-profit community interest company (CIC).

We’ve been looking at the success of Manchester and Bristol. Both cities have the support of an organisation that looks after the interests of the digital industry, like Digital Oxford will. What we’ve learned is that there are some key things Digital Oxford can do to ensure the city’s future as a digital hub.

These include:

  • Promote the city’s digital community and industry
  • Attract talent through job boards
  • Organise workshops and training
  • Create a physical space (like Google Campus)
  • Get our sector properly recognised in council policy

On the final point, the digital industry is not represented in the council’s current policy – science gets most of the attention and we want to change this.

Sounds good, right? So…

…what’s next? And where do you come in?

Digital Oxford has hatched a plan. And you’re invited to help us achieve our vision. We are looking to create a founding committee who will work for six months to establish the organisation.

You might want to be a founding committee member, or maybe you’d prefer to offer a little time or resource. Either way, you can find out a little more and register your interest in what Digital Oxford is doing here. Then we’ll be in touch.

And to this of you who attended last week, thanks! We hope to see you again pretty soon.

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