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Business & Economy

VentureFest programme brings inspirational innovators and practical workshops together online

Next week sees the return of VentureFest North East, the region’s Innovation conference. The event, which regularly attracts more than 800 delegates annually to St James’ Park in Newcastle, will take place as a fully virtual event for the first time on 17th March.

Looking at the ongoing unprecedented pandemic situation VentureFest will explore, reassess, and celebrate the role of innovation in time of chaos. With a focus on sustainability, it will highlight some of the region’s success stories and take a practical look at how models of innovation can transform business performance to ensure long-term resilience in a changing political and economic landscape.

Speaking about the move to online, Estelle Blanks, Executive Director of the Innovation SuperNetwork who deliver VentureFest, said: “As regular delegates will know, VentureFest usually takes place in November, but given the pandemic we took some time to think about how we were going to bring the scale and ambition to delegates as an online event.

“We’ve worked hard over the past several months to ensure we bring the multi-layered event together in one streamlined and easily accessible online event for delegates. I’m pleased to say, the programme looks fantastic and delegates can experience the usual mix of inspiring innovation content, highlighting some of the exceptional regional and national innovation stories we’ve seen over the last year, alongside keynotes, practical workshops and opportunities to network.”



The programme has been designed to ensure delegates take away insight into building sustainable business models, innovation inspiration and opportunities to tap into new markets or win new contracts.

Programme highlights include:


The morning keynote looks at the role of digital in ensuring business resilience and sustainability.

Speakers include, Dragons’ Den investor and entrepreneur, Piers Linney who will open the event alongside Dr Nicola Millard, Principal Innovation Partner, at BT Enterprise. Together, they bring expertise on shaping the future of work, the role of investment and how digital inclusion and exclusion can have a varying and widespread impact on business resilience and society’s pathway to decarbonization.

Keynote speeches will be followed by a panel discussion taking a more in depth look at digital inclusion, exclusion and the impact on building a green economic recovery for the region. Chaired by Lucy Winskill OBE, Chair of the North East LEP and including, Piers Linney, Fareeha Usman from Dynamo, Jamie Campbell from Rural Design Centre and Peter Baek from NESTA.

In the afternoon, the keynote examines innovation in times of crisis with inspirational case studies from local businesses who have all responded to the Covid pandemic with new products, services, or business models, including CPI, QuantumDX, Drager and Kromek.

Workshops & Innovation Challenges

Decarbonisation of heat

The North East LEP, through the Energy Catalyst, has commissioned kMatrix Ltd to deliver a piece of research on the decarbonisation of heat supply chain opportunities for regional businesses. In this session. kMatrix will map out the potential options for the region’s pathway to decarbonisation of heat. This is an early engagement opportunity for regional businesses looking to explore the potential opportunities with the Energy Catalyst planning an Innovation Challenge programme on the subject later in the year.

Events of the Future

How we perceive events has dramatically changed over the past twelve months, now is the time to consider how to build on the positive elements of this transformation. Organisations and delegates that previously dismissed virtual events, now embrace them and are open to a new way of thinking. Collaborating with out-of-region companies was previously seen as time consuming and expensive, but technology has busted this myth and made links far stronger. In this session we look at the opportunity, the areas for development and how innovation can drive events of the future.

Creativity + Digital = Business Innovation

This workshop will explore how, by fusing creativity with the adoption of digital processes, firms and organisations can generate new opportunities for investment, income, and greater resilience and sustainability. Delivered by Creative Fuse, it will combine insight and experience generated from applied research and business practice, and will include presentations and interactive breakout groups.

Finance for Sustainable Growth in the North

The economic impact of COVID-19 has had a significant effect on innovation-led and early-stage businesses seeking sustainable funding for the future. This session will address some of the challenges impacting businesses when seeking finance and look at the role of impact investing on a green economic recovery from the pandemic.

Building a circular economy

Creating a more circular economy is about designing out pollution and waste, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems. This session will introduce big picture thinking, whilst helping with understanding the support available nationally and locally for real projects. It includes details of the current work underway in the region to establish an innovation hub focused on Accelerating Circular Economy and how businesses can get involved.

Safe return to workspaces

Taking the format of a panel with breakouts, this session will share learning from the interim workspaces return last year and explore the challenges of office capacities, hybrid working patterns, collaboration and maintaining a strong culture when considering a safe return to the workplace post-COVID.

How can innovation influence Population Health?

Healthy life expectancy in the North East is consistently below the national average. How can we harness digital innovations to tackle health inequalities and fundamentally shift health outcomes for the people of our community? During this interactive workshop you will also hear details of an upcoming project from Dynamo and CGI, working with SMEs to find new solutions to address the biggest challenges of Population Health. Through a fast-paced design sprint-style session, delegates have the chance to influence the focus of this exciting project over the coming months.

Exhibition & Networking

The SuperNetwork works with more than 50 partners, many of these partners will be available via a virtual exhibition offering specific support, grants and opportunities to North East businesses. The programme will also include scheduled speed networking in addition to the exhibition, including a session with investors.

Innovation Showcase and North East Innovation Awards

The Innovation Showcase is one of VentureFest’s most inspirational elements, celebrating innovation from across the North East in Energy, Digital, Healthcare, Manufacturing and Social Innovation. This year delegates can vote for their favourite innovation, with the most popular announced as ‘Innovation of the Year’ at the North East Innovation Awards.

Estelle Blanks, added: “As always it’s an ambitious programme as we bring these opportunities together on one day. Delivering it online presents us with a chance to reach more businesses than ever before, which is important as we demonstrate the impact innovative practice can have in remaining resilient and sustainable in times of chaos.”

VentureFest North East takes place on Wednesday, March 17. for more information and to register for your FREE place visit:

VentureFest North East 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.