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Newcastle to host major digital festival inspired by Austin’s South by Southwest

Monday, 9 September 2013 | By Rose Powell

Newcastle is gearing up to host Australia’s first attempt at a massive digital conference with the Design Interactive and Green Tech (DiG) festival in early October.


Inspired by Austin-based South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, the festival will include a wide range of panels, keynotes, workshops and pitching competitions to boost the start-up and tech industries.


Festival coordinator and entrepreneur Craig Wilson told StartupSmart Australia needed a huge community event like SXSW.


“We went to SXSW a few times and found it to be amazing. We decided we needed something like that in Australia, and didn’t recognise anything like that around, so we realised the opportunity to create something like it,” Wilson says.


The theme for the first festival is “adapt or die”. Wilson says they chose this theme to challenge and encourage existing businesses to embrace technological change.


“We’re trying to reach out to say we need to start addressing the amount of change that’s happening and not get left behind. We want to help them to adapt and take advantage of new technology and new thinking,” Wilson says. “There has been such a massive change in techno in the last decade and I see it with businesses, too many are dragging the chain and don’t want to recognise the difference.”


Wilson says they’re looking forward to covering the rapidly evolving technical business world each year.


“This is only the beginning of a very big evolutionary cycle, so we need to start informing businesses as much as possible,” he says.




The event is being designed for 1000 people and will be held in Newcastle.


“Newcastle is the right sort of town to host something like this. We believe a capital city is not the place to pull off an event like this, as it’s a community focused event that takes over the whole town. It’d get lost in Sydney or Melbourne,” Wilson says.


Much of the program has been crowdsourced directly from the tech start-up and wider business community. The DiG team did a call out for speakers and recommendations, and have compiled the program based on demand.


The program includes a pitching competition for start-ups, who will be pitching for $30,000 and a 12-week development program. The competition is coordinated by the Slingshot Accelerator program.


Slingshot Accelerator co-founder Trent Bagnall told StartupSmart the growing start-up community in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley region was looking forward to the event.


“Events are really important for building digital ecosystems. There is a growing enthusiasm for the growing ecosystem in the Hunter region,” Bagnall says. “The coordinating team have lofty aims for this to be a very large digital festival going forward, and it’ll be really important to keep growing the community up here.”


Bagnall says they’ll be looking for globally scalable ideas and business models from teams of at least two people.


“What we really want to see is something different. We see a lot of ideas, so a new idea and a really passionate person is what will make you stand out. What’s often missing is the passion component, so it really makes us notice your idea,” Bagnall says.