Serious about going global: Internet Week Denmark

Aarhus has no shortage of international ambition, but often fails to make events accessible to foreigners. However a new festival, Internet Week Denmark, is making a special effort to attract visitors, by hosting many events in English.

By Sam Richardson @SamRich91

Mai Skou Wihlborg (stand), project leader of Internet Week Denmark (Photo: IWDK)

Mai Skou Wihlborg (stand), project leader of Internet Week Denmark (Photo: IWDK)

You don’t need the Financial Times to tell you that Aarhus is high in confidence right now.

In the coming months a plethora of festivals will celebrate the city’s booming industries, proclaiming the city’s gleaming international future. As Mayor Jacob Bundsgaard told Jutland Station, Aarhus is “globalised…[which] means we don’t compete with Copenhagen; we compete with second-tier cities all across Europe and all across the world.”

2014 may also be the year that Aarhusians acquire the ability of their Copenhagen counterparts to actually bring large numbers of foreigners and foreign business to their city. Through English-language events, internationally-renowned speakers and intense promotion, a new generation of business-orientated festivals are spreading knowledge of Aarhus’ achievements and potential beyond the borders of Denmark and Scandinavia. And one festival in particular is leading the pack.

Internet Week Denmark runs from April 28th to May 2nd and is “a festival celebrating the internet”, according to organiser Mai Skou Wilhborg. During the week a series of talks and workshops – 68 at the time of writing — will be hosted by various local companies and organisations, beginning with an opening speech by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales. Subjects range from digital bullying to fashion, and from Instagram to healthcare. Many of the events are open to non-professionals and 50% are in English.

“We want this to be an international event,” explains Skou Wilhborg. “We’d like to attract international visitors…we’re not very far from Hamburg, there is an internet week in London; it’s very easy to get to England from here.” Moreover, the decision to bring Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia and an internationally renowned figure, and the involvement of firms like Ebay suggest that Internet Week Denmark is making a huge effort to measure up to previous and larger internet weeks held in New York and London.

Skou Wilhborg isn’t worried by the comparison: “Of course they are size-wise much bigger. On the other hand, Aarhus is quite good on the internet market. We’ve been ahead in innovation and IT for a very long time.” Indeed, Aarhus is home to a number of prominent IT firms; Business Region Aarhus estimates 20,000 IT workplaces fall within a 10km radius of the city.

Business Region Aarhus estimates 20,000 IT workplaces in the region, including Google and Ebay

Business Region Aarhus estimates 20,000 IT workplaces in the region, including Google and Ebay (Photo: IWDK)

Some, like Google and Ebay, were lured by more than 1800 IT students at Aarhus University and new buildings at the IT Katrinebjerg complex. But many are home-grown successes, like IT consultants Systematic, who turned over EUR 52.7 million in 2012-13 and take-away portal JustEat. Many more start-ups are following in their footsteps.

For them, says Skou Wilhborg: “This is a window, an open window. Both national and international companies can showcase what they’re working on, they can share their knowledge. So it’s a very good opportunity to show what they can do, and what they have achieved.”

There’s no doubt the festival has a distinctly Danish flavour. The events are ‘crowdsouced’ from local companies, which comes from Internet Week Denmark’s origins in the Smart Cities project. According to Skou Wilhborg “Smart Cities is all about creating cities in a new way, and about engaging citizens in a city.” Aarhus Kommune put in the original impetus for the week, going out to ask industry if they would be interested. The companies organise their own events, and some also provide logistical support for the week’s organisers, in return for exposure; as little money is involved as possible.

“So crowdsourcing,” Wilhborg concludes “is supporting that concept by having everybody – industry, private institutions and networks hosting events, then it’s reaching out and asking people to participate and hosting events, and so it’s a way to create the smart city of the future.” She hopes that the IT industry will eventually take full responsibility for organising future internet weeks.

Letting companies take the lead has its drawbacks. Whilst Skou Wilhborg reckons over half of events are in English, and 80% are free, many events are in Danish, or even closed to the general public. “We try to encourage them to do events in English,” she explains “but we don’t force them”. Language is a sensitive issue; many companies already operate in English, but to celebrate Danish achievements in English might seem odd. Skou Wilhborg is adamant: “We have to accept that because that’s part of being a small nation with a language spoken by very few, and being in an industry where English is a first language.”

Internet Week Denmark, nevertheless, is first and foremost about business. “With lot of these presentations”, argues Skou Wilhborg, “even if you’re not a professional in the industry, you can come and be enlightened…but it’s also an opportunity to network, to get to know people in Aarhus. This is a place where people are open in general, so this would be a good opportunity to meet new people.” The IT industry, ironically, is still about people, hence the array of breakfasts, dinners and conferences spread across the week.

Simon Kibsgaard, from the digital agency Creuna (Photo: IWDK)

Simon Kibsgaard, from the digital agency Creuna (Photo: IWDK)

Simon Kibsgaard, from the digital agency Creuna, a co-founding partner of Internet Week Denmark, explained that “we want to get together with all these other actors, being small start ups or other companies or agencies like ourselves…we know they’re out there but you don’t see them when you’re walking around town.”

And, of course, it’s an opportunity for the world to meet Aarhus. Talking about the week, Aarhus Mayor Jacob Bundsgaard hoped that “it’ll give us a platform for companies in Aarhus and all across Business Region Aarhus to show the world what we’re capable of… we’re just about to really take off now.” It’s up to Skou Wilhborg and Aarhus’ IT industry to prove that the city really is serious about going global.

Jutland Station is an official media partner of Internet Week Denmark, and will be covering the event in English. Look out for pictures, interviews and features on every day of the week. If you’d like to attend Internet Week Denmark, please see their website for further details and how to register.