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Digital and Tech Exeter

By January 1, 2021April 28th, 2021EXIST

Insight meets the teams behind Digital and Tech Exeter, two organisations that work to champion the digital and tech sectors in the city.

TechExeter is led by director Kris Sum and community leaders, Kathryn White and Jacob Tomlinson.  The team’s sister organisation, Digital Exeter is run by Philippa Carnelley and Sarah Marks.


Kris is a director of Switch Systems Ltd.  Kris has been building computers, networks, software systems and gadgets since childhood, leading him to a BSc in Network Computing. Kris started an IT consultancy firm over a decade ago, and spends most of his day developing solutions to interesting problems with his team.

Kathryn is innovation manager at the Environmental & Big Data Impact Lab for University of Exeter..  Kathryn’s background includes eight years in corporate innovation in financial services and three in Silicon Valley working on open innovation projects.    A member of ExIST’s steering group, Kathryn is a robot fanatic who has built her own 3D printer.   

Jacob is a scientific systems manager at the Met Office.  Jacob has eight years’ experience in Enterprise IT and four years’ in innovation, research and design.  A self-described ‘serial public speaker’ Jacob has presented at conferences including GitHub Satellite, KubeCon, the Mobile World Congress and of course Tech Exeter and has organised hackathons and conferences including the NASA Space Apps Challenge.

Philippa is a UX designer at Flybe.  Specialising in advertising and graphic design for her degree, Philippa’s first job was for a local software house as a graphic designer. After being asked to work on some designs for its new software product she became interested in the power of design, the impact of psychological manipulation through technology and user experience.

Sarah is head of marketing and communications at Rezcomm.  Sarah is a trained youth pastor who moved to the UK from Germany.  After completing her degree, she became a barista and worked in different independent cafes, using social media to work on her latte art which sparked an interest in digital communications.  Sarah is also a director of Become The Voice CIC, which works towards de-radicalisation and community cohesion.


Tell us about your roles at TechExeter and Digital Exeter


TechExeter is a Community Interest Company and grass roots organisation. We’re entirely self-funded from donations and sponsorship from the likes of Exeter City Council, Stephens Scown LLP and GreyMatter.

We’ve existed as a meetup group for 8 years and are proud to support our sister group Digital Exeter with over 2000 combined members. Between us we organise over a dozen events every year including free meetups, workshops and conferences. We cover a wide range of tech and digital topics accessible to all levels – from GDPR to GPS, Amazon Alexa to Augmented Reality, through to TensorFlow and Machine Learning.

In 2018 we held a 3-track tech conference at the University of Exeter Business School with 24 industry speakers plus a keynote from IBM UK CTO Andy Stanford-Clark.


I recently joined Kris on the organising committee for TechExeter to help support the fantastic community he (and Rob, until recently) has built. I’m keen to explore new ways that we can make tech exciting for a diverse audience.


Host/ organiser/ branding and design – a little bit of everything and I absolutely love it all. Not so confident on the mic but I’m working on it.


At Digital Exeter I get to work with a really varied team to put on events that serve the community.  I’ve been involved since May last year and am looking forward to putting all the ideas Digital Exeter’s members have brought forward into practice.

What is the role and purpose of the two groups?


TechExeter has three main objectives: to facilitate collaboration and run events – both within the tech community and between the tech community and the wider business community; to encourage diversity in our industry and to run an annual tech conference, showcasing both regional and national speakers who are experts in their field.


I want the group to bring people in Exeter’s digital community closer and to encourage anyone interested to join. We want to share innovative ideas, theories and connect people with the networking opportunities that the meet-ups bring.

How do your day jobs and /or previous experiences inspire you to shape TechExeter and Digital Exeter?


As a member of a large Exeter based organisation, I have a lot of experience in driving forward the innovative use of new technologies. I’m very keen to break down the barriers between the internal Met Office tech community and the external Exeter tech community. Through events like the NASA Space Apps Challenge we’ve had lots of success in sharing knowledge with the community, and I’m excited to push this further through Tech Exeter. 


As a woman who worked in a corporate role at the cross-section between tech and finance, I have seen the lack of diversity in certain sectors first-hand. The problem can be even worse in the entrepreneurial sector, with women representing only 30% of start-up entrepreneurs across Europe, a figure which drops to 8-9% in some countries. I joined TechExeter because they value the importance of diversity and I’m excited to see what we can do to entice more women and other under-represented communities to careers in tech.

What do you see in the future for Exeter?


I see in Exeter a chance to build a unique innovation ecosystem based in part around the fantastic environmental assets we have in this region. There is a huge amount of investment going into the development of STEM capability and the city is well-placed to be the hub of technology innovation for the South West. The key now is to attract talent and develop skills in the region, which is a core part of the purpose of groups like Tech and Digital Exeter.

I think that Exeter has a lot to offer and a lot to learn. I would love to see Exeter businesses embrace powerful risk-taking design in digital technology more. I think that AR and AI could offer huge potential to the city and the infrastructure with things such as virtual 3D maps and ways to engage with the younger generations to get more involved in becoming a part of the community.



How can SMEs in broad disciplines grow their skills / shape up for an increasingly digital future? Do you have any tips?


Don’t get swept up in the excitement of a new technology. The key to a successful product or service is making sure you have a good product-market fit – it’s too easy to build a product just because you want to use some new technology. It’s always best to start by exploring the problem in detail (with real customers, not just with your friends!), and once you truly understand the problem, then you can see if there is an exciting tech solution. Most people do this back to front.


I agree with Kathryn – so often, new technology is pitched as the solution to a problem when really technology has nothing to do with it. Blockchain and AI aren’t going to solve the world’s problems!

How would you encourage young people into STEMM careers?

Showcase diversity in people, skills and opportunities. STEMM is not just for people who are good at maths, we are a diverse and inclusive community where everyone has a place.

What has been your most interesting project to work on?

Sorry, not without an NDA! Joking aside, working on events like LOST WEEKEND and the upcoming GAME>PLAY festival ( ) means I get to collaborate with really interesting people.

I think this would have to be the new app for the airline. It has been hard work but luckily I have a great app team working alongside me.  With this project I have had a chance to do invaluable usability testing and this has ensured that each design decision the I make is well and truly dictated by user needs and behaviour and I am sure that the release of the new app will be a great success.


What trends or inventions in digital and tech do you see coming forward?

With advances in networking (specifically latency and bandwidth), I think we’ll see the kind of shift like we did when DSL broadband was introduced in the UK which made streaming audio and video possible. Imagine streaming entire 3d environments and rich media to a low powered wearable display which was able to track your hand and body movements.


I see us constantly advancing towards a ‘contextual future’, where the development of new sensors, improvements in data analytics, and creation of new types of portable displays will mean we will be presented automatically with contextual relevant information everywhere we go.

The other key development is in augmented and virtual reality, which will open up whole new ways of communicating and educating.


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