Meet the Team

We’re a diverse and dynamic team brought together because of a common goal – to improve the economic future of North East England.

Our work is developed in Partnership and is led by our board of directors. They are:

    • Simon Green – Chair: CEO, Edge Innovation / Rural Design Centre
    • Estelle Blanks: CEO, Innovation SuperNetwork
    • Paul McEldon: Chief Executive, North East BIC
    • Alan Holmes: Business Coach
  • Board Observers
    • Alan Welby: Innovation Director, North East LEP
    • Sarah Slaven: Chief Executive, Business Durham
    • Colin Hewitt: Managing Partner, Ward Hadaway

The Innovation SuperNetwork is part of the North East LEP’s ambitious Innovation Strategy focused on Open Innovation and Smart Specialisation and led by the Innovation Leadership Board.

Our programme is delivered by a highly experienced team of innovation and communication professionals, based in Sunderland and serving the whole region.

The Innovation SuperNetwork Team

Estelle Blanks


With over 20 years’ experience in economic development through regeneration and innovation in the North East of England, and working across the UK and Europe, Estelle has a thorough understanding of the national and local innovation eco-system.

She has attracted and led multi-million-pound high-profile programmes in the North East region aimed at supporting new and growing innovative companies. Estelle has in-depth practical knowledge of open-innovation and challenge-led innovation to help address organisational and societal challenges. An expert in access to innovation finance, she has also supported hundreds of companies on their fundraising journeys. LinkedIn

Operations & Compliance

Alison Freer

Head of Operations & Development

Alison leads on people and partnership development across the Innovation SuperNetwork. With a career background in corporate HR and consulting, Alison specialises in leadership and organisation development, working with leaders in manufacturing, central government, NHS, digital technology, higher education, scale-ups and Sales organisations. She has also developed a niche in enabling innovation thinking from boardrooms to front line teams and helps mobilise new projects and programmes for our people, partners and innovators.


Austin Rickerby

Head of Compliance

Austin has 20 years’ strategic and project management experience which has centred on compliance and co-ordination of both publicly and privately funded projects within diverse organisations including the Department for International Trade, Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult and Northumbria University. He has overseen successful capital build, research and business development projects, involving both national and international partners, each with a remit to generate economic growth through increased commercialisation and academic and inter-agency collaboration. LinkedIn

Elaine Dinsley

Finance Manager

Elaine is a qualified ACCA accountant with over 20 years financial experience in a variety of public and private sector businesses, including SME and corporate. LinkedIn 

Communications & Events

Shelley Armstrong

Head of Communications & Engagement

With an in-depth understanding of the marketing mix, Shelley takes a strategic and holistic approach to engaging audiences, changing perceptions and building communities. Specialising in media relations and PR, she has a track-record of delivering often complex communications projects in the non-profit sector working with a range of partners. LinkedIn

Jenny Forrester

Events Manager

Jenny has more than 15 years’ experience in end-to-end event management, including venue sourcing, hospitality, marketing communications, email marketing, project management and supplier sourcing & liaison. She has delivered high-profile events across the corporate, non-profit, education, arts and business to business sectors. LinkedIn

Hannah Johnson

Digital Marketing Manager

Hannah supports the promotion and implementation of innovation through integrated digital marketing campaigns targeted to growing businesses, with the aim of engaging them with innovation activity and events. Previous to this she spent a number of years supporting the digital marketing output of a leading North East engineering firm across all online channels. LinkedIn

Jen Taylor

Communications and Engagement Officer

Jen takes a holistic project delivery approach across the full marketing and events mix within the team. She has substantial experience in both communications and events, having worked for a local newspaper delivering large scale events and campaigns and a leading North East Business Park delivering a range of digital campaigns and in person events to engage audiences. LinkedIn

Innovation Support
Through our ERDF supported project, we work with clusters in five of the region’s key sectors. Supported centrally by the SuperNetwork Innovation team, we also have experienced Innovation Mangers in each cluster who provide sector expertise to SMEs.

Graeme Miller

Head of Innovation

With a degree in Business Systems and IT, Graeme started his career in the commercial world of recruitment before moving into business support. With experience working across all five regional universities, the public and private sectors and a role with the North East Satellite Application Centre, he has significant strength of knowledge across the regional innovation landscapes. LinkedIn

Jordan Dargue

Head of Access to Finance

Jordan is a senior talent and technology leader with over 15 years experience across a diverse range of sectors.  Jordan is an innovative and entrepreneurial professional with a proven ability to drive start up and business growth through raising capital and strategic development.  Jordan has an abundance of experience working directly with investors including angel investors and works with start up companies to connect them with the right source of funding.

At Innovation SuperNetwork Jordan is responsible for leading the Regional Angel Accelerator programme, an Innovate UK Accelerator to help stimulate Angel investment in the North.  Jordan is also responsible for overseeing and developing the Newcastle Angel Hub, building an angel investment network bringing together investors from across the region to build an active investment syndicate and co-investment network.

David Lynch

Energy Innovation Partnership Manager, North East Energy Catalyst

David has 15 years’ experience working in the energy sector and attained a MA by Research at Durham University in 2014.  Having worked at National Energy Action (NEA) and the Energy Systems Catapult David is skilled in business planning, environmental awareness and project management. David look up the position of Energy Innovation Partnership Manager at the North East LEP in October 2019 and is leading on the North East Energy Catalyst programme, a ground-breaking partnership to unite the North East’s leading energy innovation demonstration and delivery capabilities. LinkedIn

Ryan Siddall

NEPIC Innovation Manager

Ryan has a master’s in chemistry from Newcastle University and is in the final stages of completing a PhD from Durham University, studying semiconductor physics and materials science. Working in partnership with cluster organisation, NEPIC, Ryan’s role as Innovation Manager is to facilitate collaboration between SMEs and larger companies to encourage growth for the benefit of the North East’s chemical and process sector. LinkedIn

Christine Jordan

Health Network North Innovation Manager

Christine has recently joined the ISN and the AHSN NENC as the Health Network North Manager responsible for developing and expanding the Health Network North initiative. Christine has significant experience of working at a senior management level in public health both in the NHS and Local Government for over twenty years. Christine is highly skilled in leadership and inspired and developed creative and effective health improvement teams. Christine has provided public health leadership working in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders and lead on the strategic direction of key public health areas. Christine has played a key role in determining, influencing and advising on local service investment and planning service reform. Prior to working in the NHS Christine gained an MSc in Public Health and a postgraduate diploma in Management Studies.

Dawn Dunn

Dynamo Cluster Engagement Manager

Dawn is responsible for working across the Innovation SuperNetwork and it’s tech cluster, Dynamo North East. Dawn manages the Fintech sector and helps raise awareness, drive engagement, and support North East SMEs working in this remit. LinkedIn 

Laura Kemp

Dynamo Cluster Engagement Manager

Laura has been worked with leading North East organisations as a Business Development Manager and now works across both the Innovation SuperNetwork and their tech cluster, Dynamo North East. Laura leads the Service Delivery Centre and Future of Entertainment clusters, she explores challenges in these areas and works with North East businesses to create and develop solutions.

Emma Whitenstall

Dynamo Cluster Engagement Manager

Emma has a background in event production and business support within the digital and creative sectors and now works across both the Innovation SuperNetwork and their tech cluster, Dynamo North East. Emma leads the Health and Social Care Technology Cluster, working with public and private sector partners and the NHS to establish the North East as a leader in healthcare technology and best practice. LinkedIn

Fareeha Usman

Dynamo Cluster Engagement Manager

Fareeha Usman is a Multi-award winner, ONS Purple Plaque holder, an internationally respected EDI Innovation worker and an Entrepreneur for Good. A global voice of authority on equality, diversity and inclusion she is the Founder of Being Woman Charity and the mind behind the Food sharing app “Share Karo” launched to provide an integrated system to distribute food and essentials for the people in need. She sits on the Board for YMCA Northumberland and Healthwatch Northumberland whilst being an Agile Business Analyst.

Fareeha is working with Dynamo North East to foster better understanding of EDI in the North East Tech Sector. She has been actively promoting digital and social inclusion in Northumberland UK through her work and is one of 100 Tech Up Women Programme by Dr Sue Black. She strongly vouch for the promotion of equality and diversity and supports BAME, asylum seekers and refugee women and families. Fareeha strongly believes that people should be recognised on the basis of their talent and capabilities rather than judged on colour, race, age or gender. Through her work she has established that we can certainly break barriers if we are ready to make that change. It is all about accepting each other and dignifying the abilities we all possess.


Phil Jackman

Dynamo Cyber Security Manager

Phil has over 30 year’s in senior management in Information Technology, both in the private and public sectors, implementing systems across Europe. Since 2017 he has run his own consultancy firm, Guerrilla Working, helping businesses to align their technology strategy with business needs. He is also a director of Dynamo North East, working to grow the tech economy of the region, the UK Cyber Cluster Collaboration and the North East Initiative on Business Ethics

Phil leads CyberNorth, Dynamo North East’s cyber security cluster supported by Accenture, the Innovation Supernetwork and recognised by DCMS and NCSC as representing the region

Anne Fry

Deputy Chief Executive, VONNE

Anne joined VONNE after a career in higher education. Her previous roles at Newcastle University included business development, project management and marketing and communications. She has a Masters Degree in Cultural Management.

She became Deputy Chief Executive in October 2019 after two-and-a-half years working as our Marketing and Communications Manager. Anne is a volunteer for Rape Crisis. LinkedIn.

Laura Elliot

Membership & Communications Support Officer, VONNE

Laura joined the VONNE team in December 2019 and brings more than 12 years’ experience in the charity sector, including roles in commercial management, fundraising and marketing for a range of charities big and small. She has also worked in employment rights advice and local government.

Laura provides support for VONNE’s membership and communications activities, as well as supporting on project delivery.