If the Big Chip Awards communicate one message above others it is this: not only is the North home to a strong and growing digital and creative-tech sector, but it’s a given that in the North businesses instinctively work together to celebrate their achievements.
The fact that Big Chip is the longest-running digital awards event in the UK points to the deep roots and strong foundations of the digital and tech sector here. It’s a sector built from the ground up, offering opportunity for talent in the north to work at the top level. With great places to work with a high quality of life, the emphasis is on building sustainable businesses to keep growing those opportunities. As Big Chip has evolved, entries have highlighted particular local sector strengths: the lively start-up culture in the North East, the wealth of games talent in Yorkshire, the agency clusters in Leeds and Manchester. But now the spread of entries and the upward trend in entry standards - remarked on by the judges in recent years - points to a mature sector where digital and tech-creative businesses are succeeding in all specialisms right across the region.
I have been overseeing the Big Chip awards since 2004, so I have seen it change and grow. In those days we were open for entries from the North West region only. Tony Wilson hosted the awards until he sadly died in 2007. Tony was a passionate advocate for Manchester and the North West. He believed technology had a crucial role to play in rebuilding shattered industrial economies. He pointed to the region’s pioneering heritage in science, technology and the media. He regularly asserted - with some justification - that not only did the industrial revolution start in the North of England, but the computer was invented here too. Tony believed it was down to us to create a technical and digital sector worthy of that heritage. That means, among other things, celebrating our successes.
That’s why I stress the three key elements still at the heart of Big Chip: that we are by and for the industry, promoting our shared success, not for profit; that we are for all things digital and tech, because the sector in the North is bigger than any one specialism; and that we are for the North, because that’s where we live, and because the North produces digital and tech work that is a match for anywhere.
For that to mean anything requires the very highest standards of integrity and professionalism in how Big Chip rewards great work. Our judging panel brings together experts in many fields who give their time freely under the leadership (for the first time this year) of celebrated designer Malcolm Garrett. Big Chip judges are almost obsessionally scrupulous and exigent, refusing on occasion to shortlist any entries in a category, or shortlisting entries but refusing to name a winner - not something you’ll ever see in some of the me-too for-profit awards that have come and gone over the years.
Our history is important to us, but Big Chip is about a rapidly evolving industry. We have always evolved alongside the sector so this year we are introducing three new categories, as well as revising some other categories from previous years.
- The Big Chip Transformation Award will reward digital and tech projects for the transformational effect they have - for example in improving efficiency or standards in service delivery by public sector organisations - but equally applying in the private and third sectors.
- The Big Chip IoT Impact Award will focus on the use of autonomous networked devices - ‘things’ - and the impact these applications have.
- The Big Chip leadership award will go to one or more individuals who have shown the way in building the kind of organisations in the sector that people want to work for or with.
If you are based in the North (anywhere north of Derby and south of Scotland), or you have done a great piece of digital or tech work in the north, you can enter Big Chip here.
Chair, Big Chip Steering Group