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Business & Economy

VentureFest delegates urged to ‘think ahead’ to deal with long-term impact of COVID-19

‘Preparing to live with COVID-19 for the long-term’, was one of the key messages to come out of VentureFest North East today, with Dr Lucy Foley, director of CPI Biologics speaking as part of a panel on accelerating innovation in times of crisis.

A focus on the longer-term impact of the last year was highlighted throughout the event as keynotes and sessions discussed the challenges and the opportunities that have arisen as a result.

Dr Foley, who was sharing CPI Biologics work as part of the UK Government’s vaccination taskforce, said: “through innovative manufacturing of biologics, the UK is in a good place to deal with COVID-19 as a virus that will be with us for the long-term.”

She was speaking on a panel following a keynote by global futurist Rohit Talwar, who urged delegates to take a leadership role in looking to the future and anticipating change, saying “we don’t need to know the cause, but the impact of emerging forces, and use this insight to come up with innovative responses”.

Considering the impact of digital over the last year, Dr Nicola Millard, principal innovation manager at BT Enterprise led the morning discussion by talking about reinventing work for the future, including a focus on hybrid working models, which maximise the positive aspects of remote working while acknowledging the importance of getting people together in the same physical space.

In the discussion which followed, Jamie Campbell, design associate at the Rural Design Centre, stressed there was still work to do despite the success seen, with large numbers of people in rural communities without internet connectivity; he said: “Some people aren’t able to go down the digital route, with 356 houses in Northumberland alone not connected to electricity, it is hard for people working remotely and children trying to learn from home.”

In summarising, keynote speaker Dragons’ Den investor and entrepreneur Piers Linney, said: “Digital technology is moving at a pace that is accelerating at a high speed and we need to fix this inequality quickly to make sure everyone has access, otherwise these groups are going to be left behind!”

Looking ahead, Stewart Miller, chief technology officer at Innovate UK (IUK) highlighted the forthcoming release of a five-year strategy from IUK, which is expected in the autumn, to ensure innovation is a driver for national economic recovery from COVID-19.

Estelle Blanks, executive director at the Innovation SuperNetwork, said: “We’ve seen some really in-depth discussion today about both the complex challenges, and positive accelerated innovation to come out of the last year. What is clear, is there remains a huge amount of work to do and a real opportunity for the region’s innovative businesses to respond to the challenges we face as a society, to ensure a green and inclusive economic recovery from Covid-19.

“At the SuperNetwork we’ll continue to work collaboratively with policy makers, businesses and the innovation ecosystem locally, ensuring the region is best-placed to build a resilient and sustainable future.”

VentureFest North East took place as a fully virtual event for the first time on 17th March 2021. It is part of the wider Catalysing Innovation in North East Cluster Project delivered by the Innovation SuperNetwork. The SuperNetwork is supported by the North East LEP, Northumbrian Water Group, North East BIC and P&G, with part-funding from the European Regional Development Fund.