‘Glastonbury for business’

International Business Festival creative director Jude Kelly sets out her vision for next year’s event, which takes place from June 12 to 28 in Liverpool.
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WHEN we picture a festival, we might instinctively think of Millennials tramping through mud-soaked fields to watch their favourite band.

Or if books are your thing, then the more genteel lawns of Hay might spring to mind. Or perhaps you’ll remember visiting London’s Southbank Centre to enjoy the Jazz Festival, WOW Women of the World, or the children’s Imagine festival.

But what do you imagine when you think of a business festival?

Sector conferences, conventions and trade fairs might be the staple of enterprise events but a more general celebration of business ought not to seem such a strange concept. After all, what are successful businesses if not the results of great ideas, brought to fruition by persistence and endeavour?

Ideas have long been celebrated at that most famous of British festivals, Glastonbury, where poets, politicians and celebrities have championed social or environmental causes. And it’s been catching on of late.

Jude Kelly

Science and technological innovation are finding their way on to mainstream festival stages. Coding workshops feature on the bill of Sheffield’s No Bounds festival in October, while Bluedot was scheduled to serve up astronomy to a soundtrack of Alt-J and Orbital, at Cheshire’s Jodrell Bank observatory in July.

Similarly, the International Business Festival is working to put together a line-up of forward-looking speakers to spark inspiration and promote innovation. There will be challenging talks, debates and keynote speeches, alongside the regular business offerings of practical workshops, networking opportunities and expert advice.

It’s already the world’s biggest event of its kind but our aspiration is for the Festival to be considered a “Glastonbury for Business”, a fertile ground of ideas, learning and connection that inspires internationally ambitious companies to grow and prosper.

Dance company Movema on the Blueskies stage at the 2016 Festival

That means being creative, fun and future-thinking, maintaining a global focus and reflecting the diversity of the business landscape. Against the backdrop of a looming Brexit, the Festival is perfectly timed to remind the world that the UK is open for business.

There will be all the usual support to inspire British SMEs to approach foreign delegations with confidence and build the networks that will enable them to trade internationally. And we want to drive home the message that this trade can have a positive impact on society, both at home and abroad.

Liverpool – my home city – is the perfect base for this event, with its effusive personality, powerful ideas, contemporary culture and architectural grandeur. As a prominent port, built on trade, it has always been a melting pot, both of people and ideas.

So what better place to welcome international influencers and innovators seeking connections to a receptive and “switched on” community?

Global corporates who want to go beyond their traditional business models will find the perfect environment for increasing their diversity and grassroots knowledge, with bright and talented delegates from dynamic SMEs with fresh and youthful approaches. At the other end of the scale, global start-ups seeking new markets should view the Festival as an essential date in their calendar.

Scene from the 2016 Festival, showing a man having his photograph taken

To give the event a Festival feel we’re delighted to welcome on board Hemingway Design, who will be crafting an imaginative, fun and innovative experience on the Festival floor.

Wayne Hemingway has injected the sense of style and creativity he developed with his Red or Dead fashion label into numerous design projects. His studio’s successful events include the recent Festival of Making in Blackburn, last summer’s Vintage on the Dock celebration, in Liverpool and the Winter Festival at the Southbank.

So I’m eager to see his plans to transform the Exhibition Centre Liverpool into a vibrant venue for thinking, shaping and doing business. I’m sure you are too.

And I’m hoping to ensure that the ideas, environment, programme and the incredible opportunities to meet fellow business of all kinds will persuade you to get your festival fix booked in your diary now.

About the Festival

This Festival is all about connections and this year we want to make sure time-poor entrepreneurs have access to the most relevant networks so they can achieve measurable results. That’s why we’ve broken down our offering into nine days, curated around broad sector-based themes to help delegates find potential buyers, investors and partners.

We’re expecting up to 3,000 delegates each day, with a substantial proportion of them representing ambitious British SMEs who are keen to develop an international presence. There will be significant representation on the Festival floor from three key international markets: China, India and the Americas. This will, of course, be bolstered by additional contributions from secondary complimentary markets, such as Mexico, Norway, Australia, Malaysia and Estonia.

But common to each of the festival’s nine days – Tuesday to Thursday over three weeks – will be a range of practical opportunities for learning. We’ll have:

  • Business advice services
  • An open market place featuring companies and projects that have something genuinely innovative to communicate
  • A “dating agency” for business-to-business match-ups
  • Mentoring opportunities
  • “How-To” sessions on aspects of technology, negotiation, contract law, business legislation and team building
  • Spaces for informal conversations and socialising

Stitching together these component parts is a challenge for any festival. But if Glastonbury can blend rock’s megastars, a circus, dance village, theatre, emerging talent stages, cinema, activism as well as the essentials like food stalls and toilets into a coherent whole, then we must do the same with our Festival’s varied highlights.

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Produced by the 2018 International Business Festival, in partnership with Wordscapes.