Impact Awards 2019

December 4, 2019

Our Impact Awards highlight those people based in the North East who have made an exceptional impact across five key areas – financial, global, regional, profile and innovation. Here are the winners and the shortlisted nominees from this year…

Regional & Outstanding Impact Award

Winner –

Jen Hartley, director at Invest Newcastle

Jen Hartley returned to Invest Newcastle (IN) in January 2019 to take up the position of director after she was one of the original team who set up the organisation in 2013.

The aim of IN is simple – to drive jobs and investment to the city – though the execution of this, amid intense competition from cities around the UK and the world, is anything but.

This year, Jen and her team have supported 15 companies to come to the region, which include global fintech, world-wide brand Hard Rock Café and life science business LightOx. IN has also helped Deloitte, DRS and Frank Recruitment Group expand its Tyneside-based operations.

It is estimated this has created or safeguarded more than 600 jobs in 2019, adding to a pipeline of 15,000 potential positions that IN is working to secure.

Crucially, the majority of these new and potential jobs are in key strategic sectors such as digital and tech, life sciences and professional services.

“This means we’re creating quality, sustainable jobs for citizens of Newcastle and the wider region,” Jen adds.

For the IN team – which comprise Jen and four others – a crucial aspect of their work is to bring local partners together.

“We build strategic teams for each investment project, which can include academics from the region’s universities, our colleagues at Newcastle City Council, representatives from local NHS Hospital Trusts, cluster organisations such as Dynamo, Digital Union and NOF Energy, or other inward investment agencies based in the region,” Jen explains.

This collaborative approach was perhaps best demonstrated this year when Jen and IN led a team of 90 delegates, representing more than 32 Newcastle-based businesses, to MIPIM.

The major property event may take place on the glamorous French Riviera but it’s a base for serious business, attracting real estate investors from around the world.

IN took part in 20 events over three days where it promoted economic opportunities in the North East. It launched major regional developments including Newcastle’s Pilgrim Street, Giants on the Quayside (featuring the ‘Why Aye Wheel’) and Stephenson Quarter and Durham’s Intergra61. Gateshead Council also used MIPIM as a platform to bring 11 acres of land to market at Baltic Quarter, which will sit adjacent to the £250 million Gateshead Quayside development.

Vital meetings with property investors were secured and the £100 million Giants on the Quayside development received serious offers of finance.

The hard work at MIPIM paid off when the IN delegation was awarded two prestigious accolades by the fDi Intelligence (the Financial Times analyse service for direct foreign investment) for ‘encouraging innovation’ and representing a ‘top 10 return on investment.’

Jen and IN have also arranged recent trade missions to Boston, Barcelona and Yokahoma in Japan – utilising trade events and established networks to promote greater links between Newcastle and these regions.

Meanwhile, Jen continues to play a vital role in facilitating business collaborations. She has been instrumental in the promotion of Newcastle’s new innovation quarter – Newcastle Helix – and, in particular, the National Innovation Centre for Ageing, which promises to build the longevity economy on Tyneside with specialist businesses, products and services to help people live well for longer.

This is in addition to Jen sitting on numerous boards and steering groups where she works to foster strategic relationships that build a stronger and more sustainable economy in Newcastle and the wider region.

She’s a true ambassador for the region, making sure our voice is heard

Shortlisted –

Dame Jackie Daniel, chief executive of The Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust

As chief executive of The Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust, Dame Jackie has overall responsibility for 1.72 million patient contacts in the region and beyond each year, which includes 500 visits to emergency care or major trauma centres every day.

Since being appointed chief executive in April 2018, Dame Jackie has been described as an ‘inspirational figure’. She has set about improving the culture and two-way communication between the trust and its 14,500 employees – whether via her fortnightly blog or by leading the employee-driven #FlourishAtNewcastleHospitals scheme, which in 2019 has provided vital support around sleep and the
menopause. “It’s about creating the environment where every single member of staff can flourish – which can mean different things to different people,” Dame Jackie explains.

The trust has also retained its Outstanding rating by the Care Quality Commission – the only NHS trust of its size to achieve this in two consecutive reviews. This adds to the trust’s national and international work utilising its clinician’s specialisms – in children and adult cancer care, in particular – while Newcastle is currently one of only two trusts in the UK to be trialling pioneering CAR-T therapy treatment. This year, The Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust also announced a climate emergency. Believed to be the first health organisation in the world to do so, it has committed to reaching carbon neutral status by 2040.

David Huntley, head of company creation at Newcastle University

Sunderland-born David qualified as an accountant and forged a successful corporate career before being part of an MBO that took control of an industrial automated solutions company. David successfully grew the US-based company, achieving a 15-fold return for investors. He also managed expansion into Europe, a move that brought him back to the North East of England. David sold his stake in the business in 2000, after which he began investing in companies and consulting at Newcastle University. This latter relationship has developed over  the years and David is now head of company creation at the university.

David is responsible for commercialising Newcastle University’s intellectual property by creating viable spin-out companies – often bringing business experts in to work with academics. In 2019, David helped seven spin-outs establish – including Aelius Biotech, Armatus Oceanic and Future Homes Alliance – which receive access to university facilities and advice on business planning and investment.

David has also been the instigator of the Northern Accelerator scheme, which supports company creation at four North East universities.

The head of company creation describes his and his colleagues’ work ethos as a way to “get research out into the world to make it a better place, create employment and economic activity in the North East and give a return to the university and academics – in that order.”

Innovation Impact Award

Winner –

Will Dracup, CEO of Biosignatures

The 15-strong team – currently based on Newcastle’s Dean Street – are combining machine learning, big data and artificial intelligence to analyse the proteins in hundreds of thousands of blood samples. The goal is to develop screening tests for 20 life-changing illnesses.

To put this into perspective, 25 years ago there were two blood tests to diagnose cancer. A quarter-of-a century-on, there are still only two.

“What makes us innovative is that we take the chemistry, the experimental design, the software analysis and the blind testing and put it all together,” says Will.

Originally from an economics background, Will entered the world of life sciences back in the 1980s and established his first venture, Nonlinear Dynamics Ltd, in 1989. In doing so, his attention was drawn to diagnostics and, in 2007, he established Biosignatures.

Led by chief technical officer Dave Bramwell, the company has developed its pioneering Tiger Machine Learning Software capable of analysing large- scale data sets from blood samples

This year, the company’s test for diagnosing prostate cancer went through clinical trials. It achieved results that were 400 per cent more effective than existing PSA (prostate- specific antigen) tests and 56 per cent better than the leading competitor.

Proving Biosignature’s technology is a long and expensive process and attracting enough investment to continue remains one of the company’s greatest challenges. In 2019, Will and his team raised an impressive £3.5 million but, as the CEO reports, a similar biotech company in America raised more than £200 million over the same period. To help future proof Biosignatures, the company is in the process of applying for FDA Breakthrough Devices Prgram Status. Will also wants to partner with the NHS and is in early talks with local stakeholders to establish an Early Diagnostics Institute in the North East. This will not only help Biosignatures but will provide another element in the region’s burgeoning life sciences ecosystem.

Regardless of the future challenges, Will and Biosignatures remain committed to impacting the diagnostic industry, which is estimated to be worth between $40-$45 billion worldwide. In doing so, they will potentially not only save money and time for medical and healthcare practitioners around the world, but save many, many lives.

Shortlisted –

Pete Daykin, CEO and co-founder of Wordnerds

Pete is transforming companies’ ability to listen to its customers and competitors by combining artificial intelligence (AI), natural language processing (NLP) and advanced corpus linguistics to provide an automated understanding of unstructured text.

While running digital marketing agency Daykin & Storey, Pete had a chance encounter with Steve Erdal, a corpus linguist working at Newcastle University. “I knew there was something we could do together but I didn’t immediately know what,” Pete recalls.

The entrepreneur then took part in an innovation challenge, organised by Sunderland Software City, where participants were asked how Nissan could more quickly identify problems with newly sold cars. Pete presented a linguistics solution – helped by Steve who sat up all night writing syntax rules. The car manufacturer loved the idea and funded its development. Wordnerds was born.

With growing interest in Wordnerds – and an offer of some serious investment from Northstar Ventures (£500,000) – Pete took the difficult decision to close Daykin & Storey in the summer of 2019. Pete, Steve and the Wordnerds team have since developed several iterations of their innovative platform and attracted clients such as Tommee Tippee, Northumbrian Water and P&G as well as several UK universities and local authorities. Wordnerds has also won local, national and international awards and has attracted an additional £150,000 of angel investment. Significantly, Wordnerds was inducted into Tech Nation’s Applied AI Growth Programme – the only company outside of London, Cambridge and Oxford to be so – and will receive high- level support as it looks to expand globally.

Michael McCabe, CEO of Intelligence Fusion

While in the military and latterly working in the private security sector, Michael spent significant periods in Iraq, where he used Skype to share data with other security managers and intelligence analysts.

He then struck upon the idea of developing a platform that combined AI and specialist personal analysis, which could collate visualise, and analyse vast quantities of information on incidents from organised criminal activity to major terrorist events.

Michael established Intelligence Fusion, based in Durham, in 2014 and the real-time intelligence platform is now used by the likes of Exxon Mobil, Ericsson, Kimberly-Clark, G4S and Spotify. “Our clients use our information to make decisions on, for example, where to locate offices, or to determine the safety of their executive teams who are travelling around the world,” Michael explains.

The CEO reveals the platform currently reports 10,000 incidents around the world each month, which is analysed by in-house specialists.

All information is also moderated and graded to ensure that the 11,000 international sources are credible and reliable. Michael believes the next evolution of Intelligence Fusion will be to develop a reliable global crowdsourcing network. He is also looking at the possibility of providing the platform free of charge for the first 60 minutes of an incident happening. This would help make it the go-to place for private companies, public sector organisations and the general public in times of crisis.

Financial Impact Award

Winner –

Nick Oates, CEO of Quanta

Nick Oates, who has more than 25 years’ experience in the energy industry, was brought into the under- performing engineering company Quanta in 2016, amid a global downturn in the oil and gas industry.

Nick implemented dramatic changes that have transformed the fortunes of the business, which is headquartered at Quorum Business Park.

Nick initially restructured the business and repositioned its offering, adding construction and decommissioning services that broadened its capability to the upstream, midstream and downstream sectors. Nick also identified and targeted key clients to ensure maximum success rates attracting new contracts. The actions have made an impressive impact on the financial performance of the company. In FY2017, Quanta’s operational turnover was £4,659,622, with operational losses of £252,270. In FY2018, turnover had swelled to £14,806,342, while the company turned a profit of £1,299,297.

In 2018, Nick was asked by parent company ENGIE if he would consider buying Quanta.

“Because I’d turned the business around, they considered me a safe pair of hands,” Nick reports.

The Chartered engineer put a legal and corporate finance team together and in November 2018 the MBO of Quanta was complete.

Since then, Quanta has continued to grow, and its workforce has expanded to 150 (from 35 back in 2016).

The company has spent this year focused on onshore projects including its first foray into the renewables sector.

“We’ve delivered work for biomass plants, which is something the company has never done previously,” Nick explains. Quanta has also opened an office in Aberdeen and has recently recruited a regional officer to be based there.

Nick is focused on growing the Aberdeen office while its primary operations remain on Tyneside. He is also targeting new international markets and is looking at potential strategic acquisitions to ensure the impressive financial results that Quanta achieved in the last financial year are not only maintained but exceeded.

Shortlisted –

John Cave, director of Shoptimised

Shoptimised’s software – which gives users control over their product feeds on channels such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and eBay – is proving popular with online retailers and agencies in the UK and beyond.

In its first financial year, the company achieved a turnover of £130,808 and a profit of £51,845. A year later, these figures had grown to £467,353 and £122,386.

John – who established Shoptimised with his business partner John Oram in 2018 – built the product feed optimisation software after failing to find an existing tool for clients at their South Shields-based marketing agency.

Shoptimised – which has a seven- strong team – now works with agencies in 13 different countries and its founders are in the process of  opening a second office in Canada to grow their North American presence.

“The growth outside the UK to date has been largely organic but now we’ve developed an international strategy that will grow the work we do – especially in North America and Europe,” John explains.

This is in addition to working on software improvements and attracting external investment as the South Tyneside company targets a £1 million turnover in the next two years.

Gary Morton, group CEO of Morton Group Ltd

Gary has achieved an impressive financial performance with his property group thanks to a full-circle strategy and transparent “open book” approach.

He established construction company, Kapex Construction, in 2016, and has since added development company LOK Developments, property sales company Regents Gates Homes Ltd, and independent planning consultancy Curtis PDC – to form the Morton Group.

“It means we can work across the full spectrum [of property development]. We can look at a scheme, pull it together, get planning permission and then deliver it,” says Gary.

Current schemes include the conversion of the former Eagle Star House, in Gosforth, into 70 apartments, the purchase of Sanderson Hospital, in Gosforth, with planning submitted for 37 high-end homes, and the refurbishment of the Grade  II-listed Middleton Hall, in Belford, Northumberland, with the construction of a number of bespoke, boutique developments in its grounds.

In FY2017, Kapex Construction – which works on Morton Group and third party projects – achieved a turnover of £1,441,571 and an operating profit of £7486. In the following financial year, it made a turnover of £3,160,812 million and a profit of £204,579.

Gary – who is a qualified quantity surveyor and has spent a lifetime working in the property and construction industry – is targeting turnover of £36 million by 2021, and he is confident this will be met due to the group’s committed order book. This pipeline is also allowing Gary to develop his 42-strong workforce, which recently moved into new offices in Gosforth.

“We’ve been able to kick start, not only the senior management team but bring in assistants, trainees and graduates,” Gary reflects.

Global Impact Award

Winner –

Patricia Alexander, managing director of Shared Interest Society

Patricia Alexander leads an ethical investment organisation that lends capital to businesses and cooperatives, which adhere to the principals of fair trade. In 2019, the society made £69 million payments to 400,000 farmers and artisans – 70 per cent of which have no other access to finance.

The society’s investments span 63 countries across South America, Africa and Asia and reach people living in some of the world’s most remote and deprived areas.

“We’re very much about trade, not aid,” explains Patricia, who joined Shared Interest Society in 2006. “We’re helping people run their own businesses, which is what they want to do. They want the respect and the pride that comes with being able to provide for their families and their communities.”

Not only do the loans help enterprises provide year-round employment but they also promote wide-ranging societal benefits to local communities, such as improved health and wellbeing, education and working conditions.

Patricia highlights a loan to a Kenyan handicraft cooperative that paid for electricity to a Maasai village. It allowed the village to establish a health clinic – the only one in the community. Meanwhile, ATN, a mango and cashew producer in Burkina Faso, enrolled 45 vulnerable children into school, paid for their tuition, and provided them with the necessary learning materials, including books.

Despite increasing their financial support to some of the world’s poorest people by ten per cent in 2019, ongoing economic uncertainty created by Brexit has caused challenging times for Patricia and her team – 25 of whom are based at the society’s Newcastle headquarters, with 12 based overseas.

It has led Patricia to make some crucial changes in the society’s Strategic Plan in 2019. For the first time in 20 years, at the AGM in March, Shared Interest asked its members to vote on a series of financial and strategic changes that would help futureproof the society.

These included extending membership outside the UK (to the Republic of Ireland), allowing people under the age of 16 to invest, and enabling the society to accept investment in Euros and US dollars.

“Around 75 per cent of our lending is in US dollars and 15 per cent is in Euros – so we’re very prone to exchange rate fluctuations,” Patricia explains. “By allowing UK-based investors the opportunity to convert their investments into US dollars and Euros, it takes the conversion risk away from us.”

Meanwhile, the society decided to relax its strict rules that all benefiting co-operatives and businesses must be officially fair trade accredited – something that can prove too expensive for some farmers and artisans. Instead, each recipient must prove to the society directly that it adheres to the nine principals of fair trade.

“Our lending team spend time with the farmers and the artisans and make that assessment,” Patricia reveals. “They’re very experienced and can see how transparent the businesses are and how they’re treating people in the organisation.”

With these changes, it is hoped the society can grow and meet the current pipeline of finance applications – totalling more than £10 million – while continuing to help their existing businesses and cooperatives provide
a better future for them, their families and their communities.

Shortlisted –

Paul Miller, CEO and co-founder of VEO

Paul co-founded VEO (Video Enhanced Observation Ltd) after a career designing and delivering large- scale teacher and leadership training programmes in West Africa.

The innovative video tagging software allows teachers, trainers, students and professionals to produce training videos, which can be tagged and shared.

“The platform is centred on learning through action and allows users to tag key moments and learn from what they’re doing,” says Paul.

VEO – which Paul established with fellow Newcastle University colleague Jon Haines in 2015 – has continued to grow its global presence. International markets now account for 50 per cent of the company’s revenue, with users based in 20 countries across three continents.

In 2019, VEO worked with British Study Centres to deliver its video  tagging platform across Kazakhstan, while additional partnerships have expanded use into China, Japan, Canada, Finland, Turkey and Singapore.

The National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) has been using VEO’s software in schools across the US for several years. It recently invested significant capital into the software company, which is based
at the Natwest Accelerator Hub in Newcastle.

“It’s a huge endorsement from NCEE,” says Paul. “[The organisation] recognises that learning happens through the interactions between pupils and teachers, which VEO helps to improve in an intuitive way.”

Paul Collard, chief executive of Creativity, Culture and Education

Paul was part of the Government- backed Creativity, Culture and Education (CCE) programme, which was set up in 2002, and aimed to nurture the creativity of children and young people within formal education in England through partnerships with local artists, writers, designers, digital specialists and other creatives.

Paul took over its running in 2004 and spent almost a decade working with 2500 schools in England every year.

But after CCE’s funding was cut in 2011, Paul was forced to reinvent the programme to give it an international focus.

“We looked for suitable partners in countries and then trained them to create programmes and networks of
local artists and creatives who can go into schools and inspire the children,” he says.

Paul initially diversified into Lithuania, Latvia and Sweden but CCE’s programmes have since been embraced across Europe and beyond.

In 2019, CCE delivered its programmes in Australia, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Hungary, Czech Republic, Greece, Austria, Germany, Holland, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Chile and Peru, and to participants from Serbia, Slovenia, Austria, Poland, Romania, Switzerland and France.

The Organisation for Economic Co- operation and Development (OECD) held a major international conference on creativity in education in London in September, where CCE programmes in Australia, Thailand, Chile, Ireland and Hungary were featured.

Profile Impact Award

Winner –

Paul Lancaster, founder and director of Plan Digital UK

While some baulk at the term ‘super- connector’, Paul Lancaster not only embraced the label when he first read about it in Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 book, The Tipping Point, but it continues to inform his work to promote the North East and its business community.

Paul spent a career helping people start their own business, in roles for Shell LiveWIRE, Tech North, Generator and for corporates including Sage and PNE Group, before establishing his own business, Plan Digital UK in 2016.

As a business owner, Paul continued to advise entrepreneurs but found that, despite there being a wealth
of support and advice on starting a business, people were still struggling to find the information they required.
Paul decided the North East needed an internationally significant event where a network of like- minded people could attend and be inspired and share knowledge around topics such as starting and growing
a business, investment and skills retention.

Paul held his first Newcastle Startup Week in 2017. The five-day event offered a range of talks and workshops divided into five themes: inspiration, establishing a business, funding and finance, scaling, and whether to keep going or pivot.

Held annually, the event has gone from strength to strength, with 2019’s Newcastle Startup Week attracting almost 800 delegates and featuring major speakers including Steve Bartlett, founder and CEO of Social Chain. In addition, a series of fringe events took place, further boosting the knowledge sharing and support.

Paul worked with Newcastle University to analyse the impact of Newcastle Startup Week 2019. The resulting report shows 82 per cent of attendees ‘gained new knowledge or insight’, 61 per cent felt ‘more confident’, 40 per cent ‘found new collaborations or partners’ and 20 per cent found ‘new customers or markets’.

Newcastle Startup Week is also increasingly attracting people from outside of the region, with more than 60 per cent of this year’s attendees based from outside Newcastle.

“They use it as a way of finding out what’s going on in the North East,” Paul says.

To continue the momentum of Newcastle Startup Week, Paul ran a one-day Scale-Up Summit in 2018 and has now added to this with his Founders’ Friday events. Held the last Friday of each month and sponsored by Sintons law firm, they provide attendees with a day of networking, workshops, panel discussions and economic insights.

Encouraging collaboration is an essential driver for Paul – who played an instrumental role in bringing the business and incubator centre, TusPArk, to Newcastle.

He has made it his mission to promote links between the North East of England and the South East of Scotland in particular.

“People are always looking South [to build business links] but I’ve been going up to Scotland for many years and Edinburgh and Newcastle are cities that have a lot in common. There are a lot of opportunities for collaboration between the two areas.”

This northern outlook doesn’t stop at Scotland as Paul is also working to promote links with Newcastle and the Nordic countries and Canada too.

In addition, Plan Digital UK’s founder has attended and spoken at a variety of tech events around the world in 2019 including Turing Fest, Edinburgh, Techfestival Copenhagen, Edinburgh Startup Summit and Lisbon Web Summit.

It seems that wherever Paul goes, whether physically or via his digital reach – he is the architect of the hugely popular #ThisIsMINE – the region’s most prolific super connector is always flying the flag for the North East.

Shortlisted –

Jamie Hardesty, entrepreneur engagement manager at Tech Nation

Jamie Hardesty spent his early career in business journalism – where his interest was drawn to the tech sector. He was then approached by Tech Nation – which was in the process of absorbing Tech North – to become an entrepreneur engagement manager for the North East.

Jamie spent his first six months in the role learning as much as he could about the local tech community and found that, “instead of being at the vanguard of the Northern tech scene, the North East was on the periphery”.

He has set about changing this by promoting the region’s sector to a national and international audience and lobbying for improvements in skills, facilities and support. In 2019, Jamie helped four North East companies win places on two of Tech Nation’s prestigious Growth Programmes for the first time, including Wordnerds
(Applied AI) and Kani Payments, Honcho Markets and Paid (Fintech). He also played an instrumental role
in the production of the One Region, One Sector, One Statement, which was published in May and brought the region’s tech ecosystem together like never before.

Jamie made the decision to host a Tech Nation Report event in Gateshead for the first time to help showcase it
as a flourishing tech hotspot. He also brought Margot James, former Minister for Digital, Culture and Media to the region for a special round-table event.

Meanwhile, he inputted into the North East LEP’s Digital Strategy, which launched last month.
This is in addition to Jamie using his digital channels and journalistic flair, to ensure the North East tech and digital sector continues to be championed.

Jen Hartley, director of Invest Newcastle

Jen has spent a career promoting North East trade and investment. At OneNorthEast she helped identify foreign direct investment; at UKTI (now the Department for International Trade) she assisted regional businesses to export their products; and at NewcastleGateshead Initiative she worked to develop a compelling and rewarding proposition to potential inward investors. Between 2016 and 2018, she specialised in promoting the tech sector – with roles at Tech North and Newcastle City Council. In January this year, Jen was appointed director of inward investment agency, Invest Newcastle, where she led trade missions to the US, Spain and Japan  and a 90-strong delegation of local businesses to international property event MIPIM.

She and her team have brought 15 companies to the region this year and helped three major brands expand in the region – securing more and better jobs.

Jen has sat on numerous boards and was a founding member of Dynamo North East and Developing Consensus. She was also heavily involved in the North East Futures UTC mentorship scheme. Most recently, Jen has joined Ouseburn City Farm as a trustee.

Jen has built a vast network spanning local, national and international business interests over the years and she continually uses these connections to drive collaboration.

“If I hear about a new project or opportunity, I’ll make sure the right people are talking to each other,” she says. “I suppose you could say I’m the one who joins up the dots.”


The Impact Awards 2019 were sponsored by Barclays UK, Bradley O’Mahoney Public Relations, Armstrong Watson, St James’ Square Law Firm, Education Partnership North East and Newcastle International Airport.