The necessity to innovate to remain relevant, profitable and competitive in a global economy was the common theme connecting dozens of diverse and respected experts who donated their time to support the region’s business community.
They provided inspiration, practical tools and commercial opportunities to more than 700 businesses, entrepreneurs and innovators who gathered at the region’s innovation conference to learn from one another.
Professor Alan Lowdon, chair of the Innovation Board at the North East LEP, said: “The North East of England has a history of adapting to change and it’s more important than ever that our businesses stay ahead of the curve in today’s globally competitive environment.
“The region’s unique power of community gives us a real competitive advantage. Today has been a demonstration of our willingness to work together and a joined-up support system that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the UK. By coming together at events like VentureFest the region’s businesses have a fertile test bed for new ideas and exciting new ways to collaborate with others across sectors.”
The full-day conference was the busiest to date, featuring a range of new programme themes as well as tried and tested features.
New programme highlights included a People’s Choice theme dedicated to helping businesses deal with changes to their environment, take advantage of new opportunities and adapt to new challenges.
A series of ‘live’ innovation challenge sessions gave businesses the chance to win work from organisations who are seeking input into real projects. These included the Great Exhibition of the North, Northumbrian Water Group and The Water Hub, a new collaborative initiative between Durham University, Durham County Council, the Environment Agency and Northumbrian Water to help businesses identify and develop innovative and practical solutions to challenges in the North East water sector.
Shaun Allan, director of Immersive Technologies at Newcastle-based hedgehog lab, attended a Live Innovation Challenge focused on finding new ways to communicate the risk of flooding to minimise impact on people, homes and businesses.
Shaun said: “We are really interested in applying cutting-edge technology to address serious issues that affect people and communities so this challenge is perfect for us. There are clearly some exciting opportunities to use augmented reality to help people visualise how flooding could affect them as part of a warning service. Today’s session is a great chance to get in front of the organisations working on this and tell them about how we can help.”
Other new strands of activity in the VentureFest agenda included a series of sessions designed to shine a light on women in innovation and the cost to businesses and the economy of undervaluing 50 percent of the population. A panel of experts provided their insight and practical tools to tackle this thorny issue and Innovate UK brought on tour its ‘infocus women in innovation’ photography exhibition created with Getty Images to highlight the role of female innovators.
Features back by popular demand included Innovation Showcase, a show-and-tell by some of the region’s most innovative businesses, a drop-in business clinic Growth Hub Live, and Why My Business Failed and What it Taught Me, a frank and open discussion with entrepreneurs who share their experiences to help others.
Keynote speakers included: Paul Smith of revolutionary transport system Hyperloop One, Phil Kite, former Chief Executive of Reece Group who is preparing to take part in the world’s toughest rowing race onboard a vessel featuring innovative North East products and services, Joanna Feeley of Newcastle-based trend agency Trend Bible, Simon Thorpe, an angel investor, coach, mentor and owner of Delta 2020 and Sarah Stewart, Chief Executive of NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI).