Diversity in Innovation at Birmingham Tech Week

By Christelle Dhrif, Chief Communications Officer at Sidetrade.

Birmingham Tech Week became the largest regional technology festival in the UK after its hugely successful inaugural event last year. It attracted more than 5,000 attendees to seminars and workshops held across the city. Birmingham now has around 6,000 tech companies that employ more than 38,000 people. All of which are passionate about encouraging collaboration and the celebration of regional success stories.

This year, Birmingham Tech Week returned to champion new technologies. But COVID restrictions forced the event to go virtual and somewhat fittingly promote modern business strategies for our changing world. Everything from 5G to smart cities was discussed in an environment designed to inspire and celebrate collective successes.

“Our region’s economy was in good shape before the coronavirus pandemic struck, and we must do everything we can to get back on our feet quickly. Technology will be a key driver behind our recovery. We are committed to helping businesses improve their digital capability and equipping local people with the tech skills that employers need in these changing times. Protecting and creating jobs is key and improving local people’s digital skills is a great way to do that. - Andy Street, The Mayor of the West Midlands

The Art of the Pivot and Entrepreneurship in Birmingham

2020 has been a turbulent year for a myriad of reasons. But an economic downturn can act as a catalyst for entrepreneurship, innovation, and positive change. Sidetrade CTO Mark Sheldon advised that one of the best things about being an entrepreneur is that it sets you free and unlocks a superpower that enables you to change the world.

Those that choose this path will enjoy a rollercoaster ride of ridiculous highs and lows. He advised that, it will be amazing and terrible at the same time, but your only limit is your imagination. Technology has made it possible to build the next unicorn tech company from your home in Birmingham. So, what are you waiting for?

Almost every successful tech start-up story will involve a game-changing pivot. Sheldon reminded the audience that Airbnb began by renting air mattresses and, at one point, even sold breakfast cereals. But they went on to build a $30bn company. What is the secret? Sheldon advised that it’s simply 99% hard work. Don’t expect it just to happen.

Are you thinking of a tech career?

Sheldon also shared his inspirational story in tech in an insightful session on R & D culture. The clear message delivered to every attendee was that if you are considering entering a career in tech, it doesn’t matter what your background is or how old you are. It’s never too late, and never too early. When choosing candidates, Sheldon is most impressed by candidates with a drive to work hard and possesses a desire to continuously improve.

The virtual stage was shared by application engineer Luke Hennerley who shared his experiences with the audience. “My advice can be confined to a single word, immersion. Immerse yourself in the world we live in — go and push your boundaries. Spend your spare time learning stuff you never would and then try to apply it.” He went on to advise, “Get yourself operating at levels beyond your expectations. The skills you learn through this will help you move forward, no matter your experience.”

“University vs Apprenticeship; different paths into Tech” with Mark Sheldon and Luke Hennerley

After working with many successful entrepreneurs and tech leaders, Sheldon also echoed these sentiments. He advised that it doesn’t matter if you want to build a lifestyle business or build the next Unicorn. The secret is 99% hard work. Don’t expect it just to happen. Hennerley also highlighted that there is a wealth of material online and is happy to help developers find it too. Those that felt inspired to join the AI revolution were also given access to a wide range of recruitment opportunities.

“From Birmingham start-up to global tech hub” with Mark Sheldon

Sidetrade Code Academy

Businesses worldwide are finally waking up to the need for the same cultural intelligence as the audience that they serve. One of Birmingham’s biggest strengths is its diversity. Bringing different thought processes and unique viewpoints into an organisation helps teams tackle problems head-on for optimal results.

After seeing businesses charging courses in coding for £8–12K, Luke Hennerley was inspired to create alternative routes into tech. He incubated a trial of the coding Bootcamp at Sidetrade, which was officially launched last year. The concept has helped Sidetrade to take on eight graduates in just two years. It’s an entirely free, new rapid way of training, creating jobs, and supporting diversity.

One of the things that excite us at Sidetrade about investing in research and development is how it has paved the way for people from diverse backgrounds and age groups to begin a tech career. With little to no coding experience, anyone reading this could be the next graduate from our coding academy to enter the R & D department in Birmingham. This is real progress and one of the many reasons why the region is thriving in a digital world.

Inspire. Collaborate. Celebrate.

Birmingham Tech Week was designed to inspire everyone to celebrate their collective success and come together in the spirit of collaboration. Moving a festival of digital, technology, and innovation with 150 speakers online in 2020 felt incredibly fitting and highlighted how technology works best when it brings people together.

With keynotes from Microsoft, Google, AWS, BT, and Zoom, it was clear that Birmingham Tech Week was a huge success once again. Technology will play a crucial role in our economic recovery. For these reasons alone, Birmingham should be feeling very optimistic about the road ahead.

We invite you to share your insights from this year’s event by commenting below.