Leeds Business Week: 'The Edinburgh Festival for business'

Leeds Business Week: 'The Edinburgh Festival for business'

BQ’s Bryce Wilcock speaks to Geoff Shepherd, the man behind Leeds Business Week, to see what 2016 has in store the weeklong festival of business.

When Geoff Shepherd, the man behind The Yorkshire Mafia and Leeds Business Week refers to the week-long event as the business equivalent to the Edinburgh Festival, you can’t help but draw comparisons between the two. Not only does the event have major blue-chip companies such as Emirates, Sharp and Google flying in to take centre stage but it also has a wide range of free fringe events, many of which are hosted by local businesses, aimed purely at supporting local businesses.

It is this collaborative approach, bringing the likes of Google and Emirates in to work alongside key city stakeholders from The Yorkshire Mafia to Leeds BID and the LEP all the way through to local SMEs, which has made the event one to mark on the calendar for every Yorkshire businessperson.

Taking over the city for its fourth year, the dates for Leeds Business Week 2016 have been set for the 17-21 October. Following hot in the footsteps of the Buy Yorkshire Conference, Leeds Business Week is now the largest business week in the UK, attracting over 3,000 delegates and contributors each year. “The first Leeds Business Week took place three years ago, it was quite odd that as a city, especially one the size of Leeds, nobody seemed to get together,” said Geoff. “We decided to bring all of the different stakeholders together at the same time and make it happen. As a platform for learning it hasn’t got a rival anywhere in the North of England.

“You could say the event is a spin on the Edinburgh Festival. There are a number of core events we organise and the rest of them we treat as an open source platform where organisations and event partners submit proposal to host their own events. We now have over 100 events taking place this year alone.”

The inspiration behind the event stems from a similar festival which takes place in Chicago each year. Geoff added: “I saw that Chicago were hosting a business festival named Chicago Ideas Week. Chicago Administration alone put around US$20m dollars into it which gives you an idea of the magnitude of it.

“I thought, Leeds is the third largest city in the UK, it’s madness we don’t have this kind of platform here. There was a gap in the market, it was there to be done, we don’t even make any money out of it. Although it has a turnover, it’s not an easy thing to put on, it’s very time consuming. But somebody has to do it.”

The idea of Leeds Business Week is to bring the business community together; irrespective of which sector they’re from, to learn from each other, share best practices and trade information, and of course, meet new people and develop lasting business relationships. With over 100 separate events organised throughout the course of the week, attendees can reap the benefits of seminars and workshops hosted by industry experts, as well as a range of conferences, exhibitions, product launches and master classes with global leaders.

Ranging from tips for starting up in business all the way through to advanced seminars for those interested in intellectual property, health and safety or even digital marketing, the weeklong festival has an event fit for almost every business. This wide range of events Geoff believes provide “the perfect platform for all the different voices in the city to share ideas, share best practice, find new ways to work together and to benefit from each other’s expertise and knowledge.”

As most of the events are free of charge, Geoff calculates that the company will be giving away over 8,000 free seminar tickets to businesspeople throughout the week. A huge increase on the 5,000 it managed to host in its first year back in 2013. “In terms of the number of organisations interested in the week and the number of businesses contacting us, the growth has been huge. The increase of the number of people getting involved hasn’t necessarily grown too much but that’s because the first event was a runaway success – we can’t just make the city bigger. “There has also been a wider uptake from city institutions.

The first one for example there weren’t that many organisations involved with the word Leeds in the title but now we have the Leeds Business Improvement District (Leeds BID), the Leeds City of Culture Bid 2023, Leeds City Council, the Leeds Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), pretty much all of the major stakeholders in Leeds are now firmly behind the event. “What has also been notable this year is that major brands have started getting involved. Google, Sharp and Emirates are just three of the names backing this year’s event. What a great thing for the city!”

As well as the events and networking opportunities, Geoff also predicts it will have quite a big impact on the tourism and hospitality sectors as businesses from across the UK travel to Leeds for the event – which isn’t just focused at businesses in Yorkshire.

“I think Leeds Business Week will also provide a boost to the regional economy in terms of guests coming to the event from outside of the region. It may be called Leeds Business Week but its open to businesses from anywhere – we get quite a lot of people coming from further afield to attend – bringing even more businesses to Leeds.”

If you’re considering popping along to Leeds Business Week, whether to network or attend one of its 100 fringe events and masterclasses, then Geoff has a message he is keen for you to hear: “Turn up! Put your hand out and say hello with a smile on your face. It’s the same as when you walk into any room with any bunch of peers. Pin your ears back and listen and build a timetable which works for you and your business.

“The benefits of meeting people can never be underestimated. You never know, if something isn’t directly relevant to you or someone you’re talking to, it might be relevant to somebody else, you never know where an event like this may lead…”

If one thing is for sure, it’s that Leeds Business Week is sure to provide you with a great opportunity to excel your business and develop its commercial value. The majority of the events organised are free to attend, all you have to do is register your interest online. For more information on Leeds Business Week or to book your place for any of its events, visit: www.leedsbizweek.com