The North East of England has what it takes to become known as one of the ‘innovation hotspots’ of Europe, that was the takeaway message from the region’s innovation conference Venturefest North East yesterday (Tuesday, 13th Oct 2015).
More than 600 businesses, entrepreneurs, inventors, investors and advisers came together for the sell-out event at Gateshead Hilton to spend a day exploring new ideas, launching new projects, meeting new contacts and brokering funding deals.
Hans Möller, Innovation Director with the North East LEP, told the crowd that the region has the potential to establish itself as a hotbed of innovation by being clear about what differentiates it from other parts of the UK and building on these advantages.
He said the North East LEP was hard at work creating the conditions for companies to thrive, developing strategic programmes to grow four sectors of specialisation – the digital and tech economy; offshore energy and subsea engineering; automotive (particularly low-carbon vehicles) and health and life sciences.
He said: “The fact that this year’s Venturefest North East was sold out well in advance is testament to the vibrancy of the inventive and entrepreneurial businesses operating here, and their interest in understanding how new technologies, finance and partnership opportunities can help them grow.
“Innovation is one of the key priorities in the North East LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan, and our aim is for the North East to become recognised as one of Europe’s leading innovative hotspots. Part of our broader strategy is to build an ‘innovation ecosystem’, promoting dialogue and collaboration to create new products and services to deliver growth, and bring more and better jobs to the region.”
Global ambition was the theme of the entire event, with high profile speakers and industry experts helping to raise the North East’s economic aspirations by sharing stories of their own success, lessons they’ve learned and practical tools for growth.
French multinational energy company ENGIE used the opportunity to launch a call for projects, challenging businesses to use the Internet of Things and Big Data to develop the cities of tomorrow and work towards the world’s low-carbon ambitions. Successful businesses will have the opportunity to secure funding from ENGIE’s New Ventures Fund of €100m.
During a breakfast session, delegates were told about ENGIE’s OpenInnov programme, which has been running since 2014 as a way of generating innovative solutions to social challenges, and which is seeking to invest in start-ups that can help develop solutions and differentiating technologies to tackle community challenges relating to decentralised energy and energy efficiency, home comforts and smart cities. The call for projects will now be extended across Europe, the US, Israel and Asia. For further details check openinnovation-engie.com
A series of regional businesspeople who took to the stage throughout the day to explain why their ambitions stop at nothing less than global included games industry entrepreneur Darren Jobling of Gateshead-based Eutechnyx and Zerolight, Harry Swan of fourth generation Consett chemical company Thomas Swan & Co. and Professor Max Robinson of airport safety systems company Kromek, based at NETPark in County Durham.
Venturefest North East Director Simon Green said: “The clear message from this year’s event is that this region is a hotbed of innovation. We have many exciting companies with the talent and capability to become world-leading and the support systems are being put in place by the North East LEP to ensure they fulfil their potential.
“The businesses, entrepreneurs and inventors gathered here have all seen real life examples of firms that have chosen not to cap their growth at £100,000 or sell once they get to £1 million – they’ve chosen the path less travelled and as a result are enjoying worldwide success. We hope that ambition becomes contagious.”
The event is part of the national Venturefest Network, and is supported by national partners Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, and the Knowledge Transfer Network.
Dozens of companies with the North East’s next big ideas got the chance to meet potential investors and businesses facing challenges with their operations had the chance to seek the guidance of experts in a series of industry-specific workshops.
New innovative products and services with the potential to help put the region on the map were demonstrated during an Innovation Showcase, organised in partnership with the North East Business and Innovation Centre. Everything from custom-built electric bicycles and beach wheelchairs to seaweed grown on land, virtual reality museum tours and fingerprint biometric readers were displayed.
Three of the companies showcasing their innovations this year were examples of successful investment meetings at the 2014 event. Child safety device creators Brand Ami, video tagging developers VEO and pre-clinical allergy test company Alcyomics all secured funding following introductions to investors at Venturefest North East last year.
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