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VentureFest North East 2018 line-up announced

Delegates at VentureFest North East will have the chance to hear from game-changing business leaders who have transformed their sectors through pioneering models and emerging technology.

Taking place on Wednesday 14th November, the region’s innovation conference has today (Thursday 13 September) announced its speaker line-up, which includes Dr Nick Appleyard from the European Space Agency (ESA), as well as Anne Doyle, Director of Operations at flight comparison site, Skyscanner, and Holly Tucker founder of online marketplace, Notonthehighstreet and Holly & Co.

Notonthehighstreet broke the mould when it launched in 2006, championing small artisanal enterprise and bringing their goods to a wider custom-base online. Holly will address delegates with the story of how the platform disrupted the online retail world, before winners of the inaugural North East Innovation Awards are announced.

Building on the events key themes of Healthy Ageing and Manufacturing, speakers also include Dr Hakim Yadi, CEO of the Northern Health Science Alliance, Ian Shott CEO at pharmaceutical research firm Arcinova and Ryan Maughan, Managing Director at leading automotive manufacturer, AVID.

Estelle Blanks, Executive Director at the Innovation SuperNetwork who plan and deliver VentureFest North East, said: “VentureFest is all about creating the space for businesses from all sectors and of all sizes to collaborate and learn from one another. Each year we seek to reflect a diverse range of business sectors in the speakers we attract, whilst providing inspirational keynotes who can share valuable experiences and learning.

“This year’s line-up is a good mix of dynamic individuals all with a fantastic story to tell. We hope they will help inspire our delegates to think differently and complement our hands-on programme aimed at providing the tools regional businesses need to embed innovation and maximise business growth.”

Register to attend VentureFest for free at www.venturefestnortheast.com.




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In conversation with Simon Green, Executive Director Innovation SuperNetwork North East England

We’ve just about recovered from the excitement of this year’s VentureFest North East, which took place in Newcastle on 8 November.

Having started off with less than 300 people four years ago, this year’s VentureFest achieved over 1,000 registrations for the first time and 710 showed up on the day. These were mainly from North East businesses, investors and innovation experts.

An amazing £250k in deals were set up on the day and over 150 meetings took place between businesses and investors. 90% of delegates said they would come back next year, which is always reassuring!

Year-round innovation support

VentureFest is our annual celebration of all the innovation activity going on in the North East. It is though, just one day in the calendar and we’ve been working hard to ensure that the good stuff that goes on at VentureFest happens throughout the year.

This means that our work to connect ambitious local businesses with market opportunities, with the finance they need and with expertise continues unabated.

In particular, we want North East businesses to get involved in working with large national and international innovation projects. There are such innovation opportunities live now on our website that are open to all.

Onwards and upwards

We’re now starting to put together the details of next year’s events.

With the support of the North East LEP and 50 local and national partners, these events will continue the innovation and finance themes of 2016. Helping businesses to scale is one area where we’ll place even more emphasis.

There is an exciting start-up community developing in the region (see, for example NatWest’s Entrepreneurial Spark programme, with 80 businesses being incubated on Newcastle’s Quayside) and we have to ensure that some of these early stage businesses grow to the medium sized and large businesses of the future. We can help with this process by bringing in the expertise and finance ambitious businesses need.

Strength in numbers

I think these are exciting times for the North East and the SuperNetwork is just one example of the way people in this part of the world can come together to achieve more than they could on their own. Let’s all work together for an even more exciting tomorrow!

For a quick glimpse of what VentureFest was in case you missed it, here’s a link to a video giving a snapshot.


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VentureFest North East 2016 to be the biggest yet

The region’s innovation conference VentureFest North East has announced a series of new features aimed at making its 2016 event the largest and most successful yet at helping businesses to grow.

The annual autumn conference has grown to 700 people this year and its next gathering on 8 November at St James’ Park will comprise a programme packed with inspiring new content, as well as tried and tested highlights.


This year’s conference will see the introduction of Innovation Challenge North East , a project focusing on helping businesses explore how to turn the real-world challenges facing large corporates, the public sector and society at large into commercial opportunities for their organisations.

Delegates will be able to meet face-to-face with some of the large corporates, such as Northumbrian Water and ENGIE, to hear about the challenges facing their businesses and discuss whether they have the technology, services and talent to provide solutions.

Northumbrian Water will discuss the opportunity for businesses to help map its vast sewage network and how solutions could include technology able to determine the level of sewers, devices that offer streaming of data and even approaches based on citizen science or gamification.

Chris Jones, Research and Development Manager at Northumbrian Water: “Large organisations like ours face complex operational challenges and while we know there will be businesses in the region with the skills and expertise to provide solutions the issue has always been in reaching out to them.

“VentureFest provides us with an exciting opportunity to access a wide network of talent and find solutions faster. We will be on hand to meet delegates face-to-face and discuss how they might be able to turn our challenges into commercial opportunities for their businesses and I’m looking forward to a day of exploring innovation in the North East.”

Businesses will get the chance to see how an innovation sandpit works as an intense innovation process to generate fresh ideas and stimulate creative thinking, with Northumbria University students coming up with solutions to tackle a big issue over the course of the day.

Other new developments include the inclusion of FinanceCamp at VentureFest for the first time. FinanceCamp is a programme that prepares businesses for investment and then brings them together with potential investors and lenders in a succession of quick meetings.

The North East LEP is also bringing its North East Growth Hub to the event to help answer questions of businesses relating to their growth. Usually a digital resource, Growth Hub Live will bring the information, knowledge, advice and support of the region’s business community to VentureFest so experts can discuss issues in person.

Estelle Blanks, Deputy Director of Innovation SuperNetwork which delivers VentureFest North East, said: “The purpose of VentureFest North East is to provide a unique day in the business calendar that is dedicated to bringing people together to explore new opportunities and overcome challenges standing in the way of their business growth.
“We are dedicated to constantly evolving the event, working closely with the region’s business community to ensure it reflects the needs of our delegates and highlights the latest innovation trends. This year’s programme is packed with content to inspire and inform businesses of all sizes and sectors and we look forward to opening the doors in November to our largest gathering of innovators to date.”

Registrations are now open for VentureFest at venturefestnortheast.com and attendance is free to all businesses.
VentureFest North East is part of the wider Innovation SuperNetwork programme, developed with around 50 partner organisations to support innovation in the North East. Led by the VentureFest North East team, the SuperNetwork is supported by Innovate UK, the North East LEP and North East BIC, with part-funding from the European Regional Development Fund.

• For more information and to apply for VentureFest North East visit www.VentureFestnortheast.com
Notes to editor

For information please contact Innovation SuperNetwork Communications Manager Laura White on email: [email protected] or telephone 07739 126152.

European Regional Development Fund

The project is receiving up to £522,000 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding.

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Free opportunity for businesses to showcase their talents!

Are you an innovative North East business? How would you like the opportunity to showcase your talents to a large business audience free of charge?



Each year VentureFest North East works with innovation experts at the North East BIC to uncover the latest products, services and other big ideas of the region’s most cutting-edge businesses. This year is no different.

The search is on for 15 businesses who are daring to do things differently.

Those selected will get the opportunity to showcase their ideas to an audience of 700 businesspeople and investors during VentureFest North East.

Entry is open to all businesses – regardless of size or stage of development – in the North East of England. From everyone from one-man bands to big corporates – if you’re working on something innovative share it with the showcase!

Last year’s event showcased everything from a seaweed farm to fingerprint biometric readers and from wheelchair adaptations to 3D scanning booths.

To apply complete the short application form here http://venturefestnortheast.com/what-is-innovation-showcase/ before October 7.

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In conversation with Estelle Blanks, Deputy Director, Innovation SuperNetwork North East England

Innovation in the North East of England, really? Yes, really!

As an ‘outsider’ to the region, I am well aware that innovation is not the first thing that comes to mind when Newcastle or the North East of England is mentioned and unfortunately this perception is hard to shift.

Despite 20 years of living in this region and a career focused on economic development through innovation and regeneration, I still get the same intrigued and slightly cynical look as the one I got from colleagues in Sophia Antipolis, France, back in 2001 when we started discussions with the then largest European Science and Technology park about how their networks could help to support high-tech businesses from the North East.

The traditional statistical data don’t help either. In 2008, the OECD found that the North East was ‘below average’ against most key metrics (R&D expenditure or patent applications sought) and this is still the trend.

And yet, over the years and during my time at Newcastle Science City and now with the North East Innovation SuperNetwork, I have seen some tremendous examples of innovation through highly creative SMEs, leading-edge research and larger corporate open innovation practices. Some highlights have been

• Helping Arnab Basu and the team at Kromek, then Durham Scientific Crystals, to prepare for one of their first pitches at the International Venture Capital Summit in 2003/4 in Sophia Antipolis. Innovative products, a talented team and desire to expand their exposure and networks has led to the success story that it is today.

• Supporting and promoting the work of Professor Paul Watson at Newcastle University that led to the creation of the £30m National Institute for Smart Data Innovation (NISDI). Leading-edge research combined with industry and public sector partnership made this possible.

• Reading, back in 2014, in the Guardian, the Financial Times and Computer Weekly how the North of England and Newcastle had become Tech-Hubs and serious contenders to London for start-ups and highly skilled tech graduates thanks to the work of Sunderland Software City, Ignite 100, Dynamo and many others involved in supporting the growth of the digital sector in the region.

• Taking part in consultations for the first Proof of Concept and Co-investment funds and even JEREMIE 1 when we had to make a case that there would be enough innovative and investable propositions in the North East to spend all this money. According to the European Investment Bank, the £142m JEREMIE 1 funds also known as Finance for Business North East is one of the most successful in Europe! Through the return on investment from successful businesses, it has created a legacy that can now be re-invested in JEREMIE 2.

So, somehow, we are getting quite a few things right in the region when it comes to innovation. We have some real strengths and we have to work hard to leverage those assets.

From my experience, long-term vision and planning, partnership working, effective national and international networks and good communication and PR channels which promote existing innovative businesses, risk taking, novel practices and good role models will help us grow our innovation assets and our presence on the innovation map.

We have to be realistic – there is still some way to go. A couple of weeks ago I heard stories from colleagues at Generator which indicate that even our local market place does not source existing innovative solutions in the region… because they don’t know it’s there.

We need to be more visible and promote all kinds of innovation to ensure North East companies benefit from local, national and international opportunities.

This is what we are aiming to do through VentureFest North East 2016 and the Innovation Showcase.

We want to give companies the opportunity to demonstrate what they can do and expose the great innovation that is taking place here and now. Large corporate organisations, small start-ups and anything in between are welcome to take part. You don’t need to give away trade secrets and we can help you promote what you do efficiently.

Last year we showcased everything from a seaweed farm to fingerprint biometric readers and wheelchair adaptations to 3D scanning booths.

If you’ve something to share please find out more and apply here by Friday, October 7.

By Estelle Blanks, Deputy Director, Innovation SuperNetwork North East England

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New innovation SuperNetwork launched

The Innovation SuperNetwork, a new network supporting innovation in business across the North East is being launched by Venturefest North East with full support from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

The SuperNetwork will enable organisations in all sectors to connect, supporting business-to-business collaboration and creating links between business and research bodies, catapults and innovation hubs.

It will allow people to access support, events and information which will unlock the potential for increased innovation. The SuperNetwork will incorporate a programme of events including conferences, seminars and workshops will facilitate access to innovation support and finance and will become the recognised access route to the network of research and innovation institutions, hubs, and information present within the region.

Alan Lowdon, chair of the North East LEP innovation board explained: “Innovation is a key part of the North East LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan, which ultimately aims to create more and better jobs here in the North East.

“Innovation is vital if we’re to realise the full potential of the North East economy and the new SuperNetwork will help to ensure innovation can flourish in business and enterprise across all sectors.”

Businesses, entrepreneurs and organisations in all sectors will be able to access the SuperNetwork which is being developed in consultation with partner organisations and the business community. It will provide support and information for existing business networks and their members as well as organisations and innovators seeking opportunities to build links with others.

Simon Green, Director of the SuperNetwork said: “Through this new network we will be helping organisations to access the tools they need to become more innovative in their work, whether that is funding opportunities, training or links with global, national and regional innovation partners.

“There are already some fantastic examples of innovation taking place, particularly in our smart specialisation areas of passenger vehicle manufacturing; subsea and offshore technology; life sciences and healthcare; and creative, digital, software and technology based services. The North East has the potential to be a global leader in innovation and the SuperNetwork is the next step in making this happen.”

Find out more about the SuperNetwork at supernetwork.org.uk

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FinanceCamp North East pitches as the future of investment for regional businesses

FinanceCamp North East is being pitched as the smart new way for regional businesses to secure the right kind of investment to fit their plans for growth.

Details have now been released for this new programme of support which will culminate in a major event on 21 June 2016 at Ramside Hall, Durham, where businesses with bright ideas will meet lenders who want to lend and investors who want to invest.

Enterprises of all sizes, structures and sectors are now being urged to apply for the programme to explore different ways to finance their ambitions – whether that’s through a start-up loan, a multi-million pound equity deal or anything in between.

FinanceCamp has been shaped by input and ideas from a wide cross section of businesses, government bodies, research and educational institutions, business representation groups and support organisations who have an interest in accelerating innovation in the region.

It’s been developed by the team behind the region’s annual innovation conference Venturefest North East, with backing from the North East LEP, North East Finance, the North East BIC and Innovate UK.

Simon Green, Executive Director at Venturefest North East, said: “Venturefest’s investor introductions have helped secure hundreds of thousands of pounds in finance for businesses across the North East over the past few years and FinanceCamp builds on this success story.

“Businesses told us that they needed more opportunities to explore their finance options throughout the year and we have responded with this exciting new programme designed to save time and simplify the investment process.”

Hans Möller, Innovation Director at the North East LEP, said: “We know SMEs have struggled to secure finance in recent years and as such wholeheartedly support initiatives like FinanceCamp North East and our own North East Investment Fund, which provide businesses with the capital they need to grow and create new jobs.

“The Venturefest North East team has done a fantastic job getting this new scheme off the ground.”

Support provided to businesses taking part in FinanceCamp will be tailored to their needs, stage of growth and structure.

Expert advisers will work with each participant to explain all of the finance routes open to them, weigh up what fits their plans best and prepare their proposition to make it as attractive as possible to investors. Once they are fully prepared, businesses will then be introduced to a range of potential funders.

This initiative is part of a wider programme being developed with around 50 partner organisations to support innovation in the North East. Led by the Venturefest North East team, the programme is supported by Innovate UK and the North East LEP and North East BIC, with part-funding from the European Regional Development Fund.

For more information and to apply for FinanceCamp North East visit financecamp.co.uk

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New finance support for North East businesses announced

The North East’s leading business organisations are coming together to develop an innovative new way to help companies access finance and grow their operations.

The team that delivers the region’s annual innovation conference, Venturefest North East, is working with the North East LEP and North East Finance to design a new programme of investment support that culminates in a major annual event.

Details of the programme are currently being finalised and will be announced in April when tickets will also be released for the inaugural event on 21 June 2016 at Ramside Hall Hotel, Durham.

The development comes in the wake of the abolishment of the Government’s Business Growth Service, which ended its national business support programme following the Spending Review in 2015.

The programme has been developed with business input from the start. Business networks including the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC), Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the Entrepreneurs’ Forum are involved to ensure the creation of a solution suited to the needs of the region’s businesses.

Simon Hanson, North East Development Manager at the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Without access to funding our members and smaller businesses cannot achieve their potential to grow their businesses, create new jobs and new wealth for the region.

“The development of this programme is a response to this need and will simplify the investment process for the huge number of business that have ambitions to develop.”

Support provided by the initiative will be dedicated to making it easier for companies of all sizes and sectors to secure the funding they need to develop ideas, innovate and grow. Businesses will receive expert advice to make their propositions as attractive as possible to investors and will gain access to a wide range of funding sources.

Hans Möller, Innovation Director at the North East LEP, said: “The development of this new programme represents a positive, collaborative move by the region to solve an issue shared by the whole business community.

“It demonstrates how the North East is leading the way in shaping its future by designing a solution to the challenges faced. This will really help widen access to funding as well as help SMEs to develop and grow.”

Other partners involved in the development of the initiative’s activity include: Transmit Enterprise, Blu Sky Tax Ltd chartered accountants, Agora Bay Ltd growth finance consultants and NatWest which has partnered with Entrepreneurial Spark to launch business accelerator hubs across the UK including one due to open in Newcastle this August.

North East businesses can register an interest in finding out more about the programme as it develops by emailing [email protected]

This initiative is part of a wider programme being developed with around 50 partner organisations to support innovation in the North East. Led by the Venturefest North East team, the programme is supported by Innovate UK and the North East LEP and North East BIC, with part-funding from the European Regional Development Fund.

NECC member Amber North East has grown rapidly since the launch of its healthcare workforce solution business in Durham in January 2015, with 100 staff already on its books.

Operations Director Kelly Bentham welcomed the news of the investment programme saying: “The challenge of finding finance for your business can be a show stopping issue no matter what size your business is.

“If you don’t understand what is available to you when you’re starting out you will struggle to get out of the starting blocks, while growing businesses don’t have the time to consider all of their options so can find themselves stung by high repayments.

“Cash is king when it comes to the growth of all businesses and this programme will make it simpler for companies to get access to the money they need to achieve their ambitions.”

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Seeking the North East’s cleverest companies

A guest post by Venturefest North East Director, Simon Green.

When we talk about innovation in this part of the world, we often hark back to the 19th century. We talk about the first railways, the first incandescent lightbulb, steam turbines and the age of coal, steel and shipbuilding. But what’s happening today?

At first glance, it appears that the North East is no longer developing innovative products that can change the world. It’s undoubtedly true that invention and innovation is now a more globally dispersed activity, with labs, governments and businesses in North America and the Far East leading the way in many fields. However, I don’t think it’s true that the North East of England is no longer relevant in innovation terms.

My argument is that there are businesses from small-scale start-ups through to more established, larger companies who are delivering value from ground-breaking ideas. These businesses are often world leaders in their fields but are almost unknown in their own area. This is because they spend their time dealing with global customers, suppliers and operational issues rather than worrying about their regional profile.

As a result, we don’t get to see the bulk of the innovation activity going on in the region. This is a shame, as it means that the profile of the community here is lower than it could be, making it more difficult to attract good skilled people to the region and more difficult to persuade businesses to move here. It also means that we have less obvious success stories to inspire the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs.

I want to change this.

Working with the innovation team at the North East BIC, we plan to use Venturefest North East as a way to promote the successes of innovative North East companies. We want the great businesses buried in the industrial estates and office complexes of the region to shout about what they do, for their own benefit and for the benefit of all of us.

If you’ve got a good innovation story to tell, apply to the Innovation Showcase at this year’s Venturefest. Details are online at www.venturefestnortheast.com.

Venturefest North East is part of the national Venturefest Network and is sponsored by Innovate UK and the North East LEP.