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Showcasing the best of Liverpool’s Creative & Digital

Liverpool has been long overdue a digital festival of its own.

At the end of May, it finally happened when Baltic Creative facilitated the city’s first Binary Festival.


With a thriving scene of digital startups, creative companies and more established tech businesses, Liverpool has been long overdue a digital festival of its own. At the end of May, it finally happened when Baltic Creative facilitated two days of workshops and keynotes from thinkers across the North of England at the city’s first Binary Festival. We loved every minute of it and thought it worth sharing some of the highlights so the learning and conversation can continue.

The first day saw a host of workshops held in different venues across the city. Although it meant that delegates could only attend two out of about fifteen sessions, I loved this approach as it showcased just how much is happening in different places and the different spheres of academia, public, private and third sectors.

Together with a few friends and colleagues I headed to the FabLab in Liverpool John Moores University. It was like a modern day Willy Wonka’s workshop without the chocolate – a sea of 3D printers ranging from small to industrial sized, precision laser cutters, 3D scanning equipment along with a host of more traditional tools and machines.

Andy Wolfe at Shop Direct reminded us that it’s not just about startups as Liverpool is the base for the UK’s second largest e-retailer after Amazon. More than 2,000 staff occupy a huge former aircraft hangar near Speke airport with a huge IT division, covering traditional IT, along with in-house user-experience (UX), digital marketing and data management teams. Big employers like this make Liverpool attractive for talent and investment and that’s not to be overlooked in the contribution made to the overall digital economy of the city.

Adrian Hon – founder of SixtoStart and the brain behind the worlds most downloaded fitness game, Zombies, Run! – did some poignant and honest storytelling about the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur. I appreciated the vulnerable honesty of the simple acknowledgement that “everything dies eventually” and a key skill for an entrepreneur is to know how to manage loss and move on in a healthy way to new projects. This probably deserves a whole article in itself to unpack. One for the todo list.

Sam Aaron implored everyone to entertain the idea that “you don’t need to be a professional programmer to learn how to code”. His ability to engage an audience through music was literally stunning.

A few – slightly more cerebral – sessions followed with Rob Black and Michael Verity taking us through some of the opportunities around VR and – more importantly – augmented reality. Russell Ashworth, Consultant for Clinical Innovation at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital shared how technology is changing healthcare for good, right now. Whether it’s 3D scanning a patient’s organs so a surgeon can digitally “walk through” the patient in preparation for a procedure or using data in intelligent ways so help nurses care for individual patients in a more personal way.

Tara Shears from the Large Hadron Collider in Cern, Switzerland both confused and amazed with a talk on the latest in particle physics. My favourite quote “Cosmologists tell us that only 5% of the Universe’s energy budget is made up of visible matter. Which means 95% of what exists is neither known nor understood”.

Ok, I’ll need to just sit down and think about that for a bit…

Unfortunately a train to London robbed me of being able to enjoy Steve Bartlett from Social Chain and Lemn Sissay MBE, but their inclusion on the speaker roster in itself just showed the variety of disciplines represented at the Festival.

So what can businesses take away from Binary? Well the three big impressions I was left with were…

  1. There’s lots to celebrate about what’s going on in our city – and across the North at large. Regardless of whatever else is happening at the national and European levels, leading the way with creativity and innovation will always provide opportunities for cities and their people.
  2. Second, that the humility of reaching out beyond our own disciplines – whether that’s animation, web design, finance, manufacturing or whatever – can lead to genuinely exciting and hugely beneficial collaborations.
  3. Third, that those who seem to have the richest definition of success manage to find a way of making a meaningful contribution to their customers and communities alongside being commercially successful.

There was a positive, hopeful vibe about the whole thing, with passionate people sharing the best of what they know and learning from each other. Much to build on for next years fun and games!