Paul Berwin isn’t just taking part in the Leeds Digital Festival; he’s also one of its three directors, and has been since the start. We sat down to talk to him about the past, present and future of the Digital Festival, as well as his own background in the world of tech.
It all started 20 years ago. “We had a particular client who wanted help, but couldn’t find anyone who had the skills to do it,” said Paul. The client in question was a digital business, which needed legal assistance to do with setting up contracts. However, Paul’s firm – Berwins Solicitors – didn’t actually have the experience the client needed.
“At the time we hadn’t done that work,” he said. “So we educated ourselves, and in doing so learnt that actually this was a sector we’re really interested in, and there was a real call for these kinds of skills.” As a result, he set up Berwins Digital, a branch of Berwins Solicitors that deals specifically with this type of digital issue.
“We’ve got 20-odd years of experience behind us now with the development of the tech sector and the introduction of different types and means of delivery,” he said. “We’ve developed with things like the changes in data protection legislation, the move from installed on-premise software to cloud-based software, and so on.”
Now, Berwins Digital deals with issues like data protection, intellectual property and the commercial exploitation of contracts, helping startup businesses in the tech sector with industry-specific problems relating to these.
For example, we asked Paul for a typical case: “So you have a startup business with a product, and they need to enter into a contract with a customer. They need a contract that’s tailored to the actual product or service they’re providing, because if they don’t do that, they end up having to accept or be presented with an unsuitable contract from the customer.
So what we’ll do is create something that matches what it is they’re providing, make sure they’re not exposed to liability, that they don’t give away ownership of their products, and that gives value to their business, enabling them to get on with developing that business and making it successful.”
With two decades of involvement in the industry, it is perhaps unsurprising that Paul is heavily involved with the Leeds Digital Festival. “I was one of the original group of people who met up in the Cross Keys pub four years ago, who decided that we needed to renew or come up with a new Leeds Digital Festival,” he said.
That group all agreed that there was a problem with the Leeds tech scene. “When we first sat in the Cross Keys there was a real sense there was stuff going on in Leeds, but nobody was talking to each other, there was no sense of community,” said Paul. They decided to create the Festival to help celebrate the City and help foster a communal spirit among digital businesses.
In the four years following that meeting in the pub, the idea has spiralled into one of the largest events of its kind in Europe. “Since then we’ve gone from 50 events in the first year to 150 in the second year and 170 in the third year, and well over 200 this year,” said Paul. “What we’re achieving is, not just more and more events, but better and better quality events as well.”
Paul is one of the three directors of Leeds Digital Festival, and Berwins Digital are also putting on some events themselves. “We’re putting on four events across different topics,” he said. “The first one of them has to do with the management of contracts. So it’s not necessarily a coding or digital kind of event; it’s getting more into the hard business side of things.
“The second event is about software licensing and software-as-a-service (SaaS), and the issues around understanding those. The third one is looking at data protection one year on from GDPR. We’re doing that in conjunction with Agenci, who are cybersecurity and digital protection consultants.”
However, while these three events will provide attendees with expert insight and interesting discussions, Paul is also hosting one that’s a little different. In his own words, “We’re putting on a run, setting off from the City Centre and taking in a number of technology locations around Leeds”.
The distance of the run will be around 7km, and Paul emphasised that it would be at “a really steady pace so nobody gets left behind”. The idea is simply to “get people out of their offices and out into the open air doing something physical and refreshing”.
The idea came from a festival in Estonia, which all three of the Leeds Digital Festival directors will be attending this year to further spread the word about Leeds as a digital city; or as Paul put it, “preaching the Leeds City gospel”. Called Latitude 59, one of the events it hosted in its last incarnation was a similar tech-themed run. Paul saw that and thought: “Let’s have one of those as well.”
Overall, Paul has high hopes for the Digital Festival this year. He said that he was proud of “the energy that it’s generated and the sense of a common purpose, that sense that we’re all building fantastic stuff together”.
That’s surely an energy anyone can take part in, whether by networking, learning something new or putting on your running shoes and exploring the City.
You can find out more about Berwins Digital on their shiny new website – berwinsdigital.com
For details of all the events taking place at Leeds Digital Festival, see here.