There is a new breeze blowing in the once troubled land of Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland. It’s a wind bringing a refreshing sense of posibility, energy, good ideas, youth, art, music and entrepreneurial spirit. It might otherwise be called Hope. Walk the new pedestrian Peace Bridge over the River Foyle into the walled city and you’ll find a vibrant core of creative talent.
I don’t know enough to comment about the Troubles that existed here, but I think it’s fair to say that Derry has turned a corner and is moving forward into a new era. To a great extent the economic playing field has been levelled — and the result is an emerging regional center of excellence in the digital arts — their calling it “Digital Derry”.
I learned about this last week at the very cool CultureTech 2012 conference. I was a speaker and also judged an interesting start-up competition, SeedComp. I was simply inspired by the diverse offerings of business content, music, comedy, film, games, and amazingly great gab sessions at the conference. The diversity over the four day event is part of what made this so much more than just another creativity conference — this was a real dynamic happening. Derry is the 2013 City of Culture — a bid they recently won — and if CultureTech is any indication, they’re off to a very good start.
CultureTech showcased an impressive array of local arts, digital media, and tech creative talent. As a judge for SeedComp I heard six pitches to narrow down the field to three winners (each to receive £5000, one to get £10,000). All six pitches were interesting, it was hard to choose. All were business ideas thought up by young local entrepreneurs. The crowd-picked winner was ROTOR, who’s in the process of creating an instant music video generator. Pop a track into Rotor and out comes a unique music video in the time it takes to play the song. Rotor now has £10,000 in funding to take their venture forward. Runner up winner CSC has a great start on an educational game offering, and InFlyght is an ingenous tool for DeeJays to screen new music.
Two young guys from Zombiesauraus Games (Thomas McCloskey and Ryan McDermott) pitched a cool idea targeting a market white space for more challenging games on smart phones.They didn’t win a prize, but they’re learning, coding, and getting their first product ready while working full time jobs. Look for their retro game “SoulGrinder” to be on the market in December. Their dream is to be full time game producers — and it all starts with a dream doesn’t it? These guys are the poster children for Digital Derry — passion, talent, and fearlessness.
Was also impressed with the creative output of Cartoon Saloon (located in Kilkenney) and Derry-based Dog Ears. Together they’ve created a lovely children’s book called Puffins’ Rock. The book prompted an iPad app, now available, and in the future will be the basis for a pre-school TV program.
Mark Nagurski deserves an award for the yeoman’s work he did in creating and executing CultureTech. He’s a visionary and his vision is infectious. It would be interesting to know how he recruited speakers from the UK like the head of the Barbican, Sir Nicholas Kenyon, Fiona McAnena, founder of London-based Clearhound (a Derry native) or San Francisco based digital star, Daniel Burwen. Burwen is the founder of Cognito Comics and is doing ground-breaking work. His interactive graphic novel Operation Ajax (for the iPad) takes storytelling to a new space entirely, it’s an innovative blend of content and entertainment, and his talk was a real eye opener even for those of us who have some idea of what’s happening in digital media.
In the interest of getting this post done sooner I’m going to end it here, but suffice to say, CultureTech was an amazing event – kudos to sponsors Seagate, Silex, Derry City Council, Invest Northern Ireland, and the Londonderry Chamber.
They say in investing you want to get in early. In my view the time is now to invest in Derry.