Oxford - the historic city entering the digital age.

Words by hubbul, article in IPSE Mag

Having nurtured some of the greatest political, scientific and literary minds in times gone by, it’s no wonder the city of dreaming spires has earned a reputation as one of the world’s leading academic centres.

But more recently, Oxford finds itself being revered for reasons other than its long list of successful alumni. The city’s digital industry is flying, and the organisation propelling it, Digital Oxford, has a plan to make it Britain’s top digital hub.

“We want Oxford, and Oxfordshire as a county, to be recognised by Tech City UK as the number one tech hub in the country on its own merits,” Karen David of Digital Oxford explained.

And you certainly can’t knock their ambition. This independent organisation is little over a year old, but already has grand plans to make Oxford a world-class digital destination to attract jobs, funding, talent and investment to the digital industry in Oxfordshire.

But given its mere 150,000 population, around 40,000 of whom are full-time university students, can Oxford really compete with some of the world’s digital elite?

“In short, yes it’s possible. Our location on the map, the skills we have at our disposal and our established digital infrastructure make us very appealing to digital businesses.

“Oxford as a place and Digital Oxford as an organisation offer a close-knit and supportive community to help companies flourish. We have close links to Oxford’s world-class universities and the dozens of science and tech hubs all over the county.” 

It's fair to say, given the size of the county, Oxfordshire's digital scene is batting well above it's weight. At the last count there were over 21,000 digital minds in Oxfordshire, powering an industry worth an estimated £500 million to the county. It also boasts the second highest concentration of creative and technical jobs in the UK – again, not bad for a place typically associated with professors and punting.

Bearing in mind the word ‘digital’ itself is such a commonly used – arguably overused – term, and one that encompasses a broad range of skills, who are these 'digital minds' and what do they actually get up to?

“Digital really does stretch across a variety of roles, industries and professions, which is what makes it so exciting. We get involved with agencies developing digital products or offering creative services, individuals running their own businesses, technology start-ups and even an engineering company which deploys digital technology,” revealed Karen.

And as one would expect of a digital organisation, the website is the place for the growing number of freelancers and small business owners to meet, regardless of whether their interest in Oxfordshire’s digital industry is firm or fleeting.

“We provide support and promotion for any digital or relevant event in Oxfordshire, cover regional success stories and specialise in making introductions. We have a strong online presence, and on DigitalOxford.com, company members and upcoming events are listed, projects are posted and Oxford’s digital community can meet each other."

With the lion’s share of the county’s digital community aged between 20 and 40, it is a young-ish, energetic and ambitious project to be a part of. That said, Digital Oxford is keen to tap even further into the deep pool of digital talent at large in the city’s universities and schools.

“The universities – both of which are world class – along with the great research institutions make Oxford one of the best places to grow a digital business. We’ve got big plans to extend our reach to benefit school leavers, even more university students and career starters seeking apprenticeships.”

Governed and run entirely by an elected committee of volunteers, the team are clearly passionate about what they do, and it’s refreshing to see an organisation – albeit young and relatively small in size – harbouring the ambition to take on some of the UK’s top digital cities.

“With 30 monthly meet-ups, nine major business parks, an international gaming hub and regular international tech conferences, Oxford is rapidly developing into one of the UK’s most attractive digital destinations,” Karen emphasised.

While it’s still very much early days for Digital Oxford – and indeed the county’s digital industry – exciting times lie ahead for both.

And as Karen so aptly put it: “We’re just starting out here and we have shed-loads of ambition. So make sure you watch this space…”

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