In the latest of our 'Introducing' series, we check in with one of our favourite creative thinkers: Imran Ali. Imran has an amazing story which started at Freeserve back in the day. He is currently doing some really intersting things with CARBON:Imagineering and hosting cool events like LSx and TEDxLeeds. We sat down and talked to Imran about careers, creativity, events and cities.
Imran graduated from Leeds Met in 1997 in Computing and Software Engineering. By his own admission that "sounds kind of dorky" but his graduation happened at the perfect time: the beginning of the 'multimedia' age. During the early stages of his career Imran was involved in some of the most exciting media companies around as he explains...
"The first jobs I had were as a hybrid interactive designer/developer creating websites and CDROM (remember those!) at Leeds' now defunct Creative Convergence agency. After moving up into being a producer, our entire team resigned on the same day to join Freeserve at the dawn of the dotcom era in 1999…great timing huh ;)
Freeserve, became Wanadoo and Wanadoo became Orange. I ended up as a deputy director for Orange's disruptive innovations team, travelling between MIT, Silicon Valley, London, Leeds and Paris scouting for bleeding edge people and projects that'd scare the poop outta our executives!"
We have got to know Imran well over the past year. He is one of those people who seems to have an involvement in lots of the cool stuff going on in and around the city. It is probably best for Imran to explain himself what he is up to at the moment:
"After working alongside so many startups, our team wanted to go it alone with some of our own ventures. We had great relationships with investors and media, so decided to setup an emerging technologies think-tank, CARBON:imagineering."
"Most of our work is involves helping clients ask questions about the future and prepare themselves for technological, political and cultural shifts - from creating conceptual products and services, to architecting visions and scenarios that help clients to explore and experience future developments. In parallel to this, I've been a board advisor to various startups and conferences, as well as founding the LSx festival and joining Manchester's FutureEverything festival team as conference programme director"
We have attended some of the LSx events including TEDxLeeds and Open Coffee. Our very own Shang Ting is a keynote speaker at the Girl Geek Dinner tonight (blog post to follow after event) and Imran is hoping to take the festival to new levels in 2011:
"LSx is a group of people interested in nurturing Leeds' technology scene to put it on the map nationally and globally. LSx isn't about gadgets and code, but the culture of technology - what does digital tech do to music, politics, fashion, publishing, films and education that's interesting?
LSx has largely been a shorthand for all the events, meetups and conferences we host throughout the year to bring together creatives, entrepreneurs, technologists, publishers and media people. LSx runs year-round events such as OpenCoffee, Girl Geek Dinners, WePublish and TED, but we also run an annual festival every Spring that includes the city's first unconference - BarCamp Leeds, as well as guest speakers from Google, Twitter, Creative Commons and other major technology brands like Carsonified.
Our mission is to bring the planet's best tech thinkers to Leeds to share their insights. This year, we're moving up a gear with a our inaugural Conference of Emerging Tech; a large outdoor zombie game (!); the launch of an open government project and a super-secret film project."
We often talk with Imran about Leeds as a city. We approach from the fashion / music / art angles and Imran from what may be refered to as the 'tech' angle but the bottom line is, both of these are creative angles. Instead of looking at the city as 'lacking' in certain areas, we often talk about a 'blank canvass' and of the potential to do something special here. Imran expands further:
"Leeds has always been a vibrant creative and tech hub - from being part of the Industrial Revolution's Silicon Valley, to the dotcom era and now the Web 2.0 era. Leeds keeps inventing. A university that spins out the most ventures of any in the UK; entrepreneurs that created Freeserve, Sportal and Ananova and now home to cultural hackers tinkering with social software, mobility, and 'maker' culture.
However, Leeds is terrible at sharing those extraordinary parts of its heritage - we want to change that with LSx. To showcase the city's past, but also provide a path to the future by bringing powerful ideas to the city.
I hear a lot of Leeds creatives complaining about how Leeds isn't Manchester or London. Blah, blah. If you want your city to be cool, then experiment, innovate, create connections, throw your pet projects out into the world and see if they flourish. Your city is your canvas, use it.
For me, Leeds is a great platform for experimentation and serendipity. Big enough to be diverse and exhilarating, but small enough to be accessible and human-scale. I can meet an undergrad with a great idea for a web app in the morning, then walk across the street and hang with the city's politicians to talk about how we reboot citizenship for a networked culture and in the evening listening to an evening of lightning talks"
We are talking with Imran about a number of projects at the moment. One of these is bringing together some of the cities most interesting fashion, music, art and digital creatives. By getting a group of people together who may not usually work together on projects could generate some cool projects according to Imran
"I don't even know what we'll be working on, but I'm excited by the composition of the group. This kinda diversity brings creative frictions that are inventive and just plain cool. Already, Shang Ting's going to be contributing a keynote speech at the next Girl Geek Dinner that's got the LSx team super-excited.
I hit it off with Lee from our first conversation - we see the world the same way and that kinda chemistry can only lead to something awesome… like Lee switching allegiance from Leeds to Manchester United" (Lee: NEVER going to happen!)
We are really excited to be working with Imran and know we can create some interesting stuff. From the city's point of view, he is one of our most valuable assets, We often find ourselves saying to people "whatever Imran thinks we should do... just do it!" and we genuinely mean it.
We also encourage everyone to get involved as much as they can in LSx and it's year-round events. You can do so by signing up for girl Geek tonight here. And generally we encourage everyone to try and get involved in LSx which has events all year round, it really is one of the best things going on in Leeds at the moment!