VentureFest is all about creating the space for businesses from all sectors and of all sizes to collaborate and learn from one another.

Each year we seek to reflect a diverse range of business sectors in the speakers we attract, whilst providing inspirational keynotes who can share valuable experiences and learning. This year’s line-up is no different. Delegates will have the chance to hear from game-changing business leaders who have transformed their sectors through pioneering models and emerging technology. All have a fantastic story to tell!

Felicity Burch

Director of Innovation and Digital at CBI

Felicity leads CBI’s policy work to create the conditions that enable businesses to come up with new ideas, invest in research and development (R&D) and adopt new technologies. She also manages the CBI’s partnership with the trade association, Sharing Economy UK, which represents businesses that use the internet to share skills, space and stuff.

Prior to her current role, she was the Head of Innovation and Digital, where she led the CBI’s successful campaign for the government to commit to a target for R&D expenditure, as well as agenda-setting work on technology adoption. Felicity’s first role at the CBI was as the Principal Policy Adviser on labour markets, where she was responsible for the CBI’s agenda on pay and the future of work.

Felicity’s background is in Economic Policy, focused on business growth. Before the CBI, she was Senior Economist at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation. In this role she led the development of their innovation policy and industrial strategy work and delivered a breadth of economic and industrial trends research. She has also worked on Experian’s Economic Policy team, with a focus on regional growth.

Dean Benson

Founder and CEO of Visualsoft

Dean Benson is the founder and CEO of Visualsoft, a full-service eCommerce and digital marketing agency headquartered in Stockton-on-Tees. The award-winning company set up shop back in 1998 and now employs a team of over 280, across three UK offices in Teesside, Newcastle, and Manchester.

As a North East business leader, Dean is heavily involved in investing in the tech sector with a keen eye for future growth opportunities. Dean is eager to work towards changing the future for young people across the Tees Valley, which is why he’s currently involved in a number of exciting projects aiming to overcome skill shortages within the tech industry. He has also recently joined the Board of Governors at Teesside University.

Ron Ashtiani

Creative Business Leader

Ron Ashtiani has provided creative leadership on 3 block buster Marvel movies, over 30 games, and has worked with huge brands like J.K Rowling, Warner Bros, Sony and Microsoft.

He has led several businesses over the years and in 2009 formed visual design company, Atomhawk, which he built from a team of 4 into an international brand with studios in the UK and Canada.

Ron has been listed in both the UK top 100 people in video games and the UK top 100 in digital media.

Helen Cadzow

CEO of Cadzow Estates

After a career in sales and marketing management Helen started her first company using her global network to advise companies at board level on sector strategies and breaking into new markets such as Russia. She formed her first property development company five years ago and is passionate about bringing investment into the region.

Patrick Ferran

Co-President and Chief Sales Officer of NineSigma

Patrick started his career in R&D at General Electric in the USA. He then joined Thalès Avionics in France to work in product development and global customer support services for the airline business. He pursued his career in management consulting at Andersen Consulting. From 2000 onwards, Patrick was involved as a founder and executive in high-tech start-ups, active in IT & Database infrastructure and internet applications.

Patrick got a Master of Science in engineering from Ecole Polytechnique of the Free University of Brussels in 1987 and an MBA from Sciences Po Paris in 1996.

Ella O'Toole

Operations Lead at Notpla

Ella has worked with Notpla for the past year and a half. During that time, she has watched the company evolve and grow. Ella has worked as part of the company’s biggest trials to date, including the London Marathon and three trials with Just Eat.

Notpla are a sustainable packaging start-up. They are a combination of designers and chemists, engineers and entrepreneurs. Notpla create advanced packaging solutions that disappear, naturally.

After their first video of Ooho went viral in 2013, they joined Climate KIC, Europe’s largest funded accelerator focused on climate innovation.

The team started collaborating with chemists and chemical engineers from Imperial College to test Ooho at running events, festivals and takeaway shops. They soon started working on a scalable manufacturing technology.

In April 2017, they raised their first round on Crowdcube which helped grow the business, build the first machine and set up a manufacturing hub in London.