Belfast Telegraph

Digital scene clicking into place with North West's culture coup

By Mark Nagurski

Londonderry's successful UK City of Culture bid has the potential to help transform the North West's digital economy - but it is not the only reason that the local digital businesses are getting excited.

From growing companies and new start-ups to Derry's search for its first 'Digital Champion', there's a new found optimism in the North West's digital scene.

Derry and the North West have long been seen as the poor cousins in the world of digital media, with more obvious digital hubs like Belfast and Dublin leading the charge of new media and new technologies north and south of the border.

Over the last 18 months however, the local industry seems to have been given something of a jump start.

Companies like TV and web production firm 360 Production, games developers Dark Water Studios and e-learning rising star Learning Pool have all made major advances; rolling out new products, hiring new staff and landing major new commissions.

New starts too are beginning to emerge with creative entrepreneurs tackling everything from location-aware mobile apps to GPS-enabled storytelling.

All of which is happening against a backdrop of already established multi-nationals, fast-growing indigenous firms like Singularity and a strong academic and research sector lead by the University of Ulster at both Magee and Coleraine.

At the same time, Derry's business and economic stakeholders have come together to pursue what's being billed the 'Digital Derry' project - a collective effort to define, support and promote the growing creative digital sector in the North West.

Final interviews for the city's first ever 'Digital Champion' take place next week and a Digital Action Team is already in place, involving representatives from industry, local government, support organisations, the University and established creative hubs like the Nerve Centre and Verbal Arts Centre.

Private sector and community-driven initiatives are taking root too. The success of last year's BarCamp Derry event (a community organised web and social media event) is set to be replicated again in October.

The next few months will also see the first ever Showcase event in the city, a full day of demos and workshops on the theme of cloud computing and mobile technologies taking place on September 16 (www.showcaseconf.com). The much-debated Project Kelvin will also get its official launch soon.

Which brings us back to the successful City of Culture bid.

The details of the bid documents will be released shortly but it's already clear that digital media will have a big part to play as one of four principle pillars.

Over the coming years, not only will the city's existing cultural organisations be driving to perfect their digital offerings but opportunities for new businesses and digital media projects will also come to the fore.

Indeed the campaign itself broke new ground for the city with what has been hailed as Northern Ireland's most successful social media campaign - easily outstripping the efforts of other, much larger, short-listed cities.

Of course the region still has a long way to go before it can start to challenge more established digital hubs but the same ambition and collaborative efforts that produced the City of Culture win are beginning to be seen.

In other words, watch this space.

Mark Nagurski is a blogger and event organiser based in Derry. You can find him at www.ownbrandmedia.com and all over the interwebs.

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