Sheffield Digital Q&A…

Answers to some questions I get asked a lot and an update as to where we are.

As Sheffield Digital is becoming more widely known, I’m getting a lot of questions from people who want to know what it’s all about, so I thought I’d jot them down here. Of course, you can find out more by reading what’s posted on the website, but things are changing so rapidly I thought it was worth an update to tell people where we’re up to, what our thoughts are and what we’re doing…

Is Sheffield Digital a public sector initiative?

No. Sheffield Digital has been set up by five private individuals in order to develop the digital sector in Sheffield and surrounding region. It was borne out of years of frustration with the lack of investment and attention that the digital sector receives in this city, and the vision that things could be so much better if all of our assets were properly joined up. We felt that making it so wouldn’t involve spending millions of pounds on economic development, it would just need lots of advocacy and promotion, connecting things up that are already happening, and getting them to happen if they are not already. I wrote about the desire to do something like this in an article for First For Business magazine nearly a year ago.

Eventually it became clear that nothing substantial was going to happen unless we made it happen, so we decided to put the desire into practice. Sheffield Digital was incorporated as a company limited by guarantee, with a not-for-profit mandate, in May this year. The individuals who have set it up are Mel Kanarek of Tiger Nash, Saul Cozens of CZNDigital, Andy Mayer of Yoomee, Neill Birchenall of Birchenall Howden and me, Chris Dymond of Unfolding.

How are you funded?

We are currently raising seed-funding by inviting founder organisations to contribute to our startup costs and join our board. We want our founders to represent a mix of public and private sector organisations. We have so far gained the support of both Universities and Tech North and are in negotiations with several private sector firms to come on board. We will be able to make an announcement about our founders very shortly – we have given potential founders until the end of this year to come on board, after which the window will close.

Following this startup phase, which will allow us to build our platforms and begin delivering value back to the digital community, we intend for our funding to come from four main sources:

  1. Membership from local firms and individuals, more about which below. We are hoping this will be the primary source.
  2. Sponsorship for individual events and initiatives.
  3. Services where it’s appropriate for us to provide support and there’s no conflict of interest, for instance, helping firms relocate to the area.
  4. Research where there are opportunities to work with academic partners on projects related to the local tech ecosystem.

Our aim is to make sure that Sheffield Digital is sustainable. We don’t want to be in the position where we are dependent on public sector funding or chasing sponsorships to keep the organisation going.

What will the benefits of membership be?

The most important thing to know about Sheffield Digital is that we are not a club! Our mission is to develop and support the entire digital ecosystem in the city, not just work on behalf of a subset of that community who happen to be members and have paid their subscription. We want firms and individuals to become members because they believe in what we are doing, because they trust us to represent them, because they understand that a bigger, healthier digital industry, talent pool, events calendar, investment community and everything that comes with it, is beneficial to *everyone* and they want to see our work continue. It will be possible to ‘free-ride’ on all of this stuff and never pay for membership, and that might be absolutely the right thing for some people and firms who are starting out and can’t justify the cost. But we hope that everyone will support us if and when they can, and to do that we need to provide value back to the community as much as possible.

This said, we will also look to offer some perks to our members, and use our negotiating clout to get deals. Some of the things we’ll be considering are:

  • Cheaper event ticket prices for members.
  • Discounts off rail and public transport.
  • Specific business and legal advice sessions.
  • Early access to research.
  • As much promotion and positive attention as we can muster.

But perhaps most importantly, membership will provide the best way to influence and shape the work that we do and the way we get involved in things.

How much will membership cost?

We are looking at a couple of models currently – one is essentially a tiered structure based on number of employees, which ranges from £50 per year for an individual to around £1400 for the largest firms. The other is a ‘pay what you consider fair’ model with different (low) minimum values for individuals and firms. We still need to do some work on this question, and above all ask people what they think would work best for everyone.

What do you mean by ‘digital industry’? Who is this actually for?

This is a contentious question, academically speaking, and I’m not going to go into all the methodological minefields that economic researchers go through to categorise their data. We’ve taken the view that this is for people and firms who self-identify as ‘digital’. The easiest way of thinking about it is that if you work as or employ people with digital skills – developers, designers, testers, BAs, PMs, sysops, networks, digital marketing, etc, or if you are involved in running events for or training such people, then you’ll probably benefit from membership, no matter what sector of business you’re in.

What are you doing right now?

Here are the things we are currently working on:

  • Bringing more founders on board.
  • Building the basic platform, which involves:
    • Mapping the ecosystem.
    • Developing a unified events calendar system.
    • Capturing job vacancy data and promoting open positions.
    • Building and supporting grass-roots engagement via Twitter and Slack.
    • Developing a new brand identity and website (the current ones are very much MVP).
  • Co-organising a skills event to be held in late January or early February.
  • Organising a Sheffield Digital social event in December.
  • Working with Invest in Sheffield to attract new firms to the city.
  • Working with the LEP to make sure the needs of digital businesses are considered in the Skills Bank and Growth Hub plans.
  • Working with local training providers to map the digital skills offers in the city.
  • Formalising our governance and membership offer.
  • Promoting things that are going on in the city.

That’s where we are. And we want to get through this set of work by the end of the year, so we can hit 2016 with everything in place to build on.

Let us know what you think in the comments or on Twitter or Slack – above all we want to listen to the needs and opinions of the people who live and work in this awesome city. (If you’d like an invitation to our Slack, DM us on Twitter or email info [at]


Chris D.

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