Innovation SuperNetwork kicks-off programme to tackle gender equality in business

05 July 2018

Women in Innovation

A programme to tackle barriers to business growth linked to a lack of gender diversity was officially launched today, (05 July 2018) with a panel discussion about the role of women investors and the importance of investing in female-led businesses.

The debate, which took place at FinanceCamp – the annual event connecting businesses with the funding they need to grow – is part of the Innovation SuperNetwork’s ‘Women in Innovation’ programme.

Chaired by entrepreneur and gender equality ambassador Caroline Theobald CBE, the panel was made up of men and women from across the investor community, including Angel Investor of the Year 2017/ 18, Meganne Houghton-Berry.

Meganne, who is a member of Astia Angels an international network of female and male investors that invest in women-led, high-growth ventures, said: “Too often strong business ventures with women at the helm are over-looked for investment due an unconscious bias, even though research consistently proves companies with gender diverse management teams outperform other businesses. This programme is a great first step to equipping fund managers and business leaders with the knowledge and skills to support more women in business, a strategy which ultimately leads to a stronger and more vibrant economy for us all. “

The panel also included CEO of Cadzow Estates, Helen Cadzow; Investment and Operations Director at Growth Capital Ventures, Jordan Dargue; and Campaign Associate at Seedrs, Scott Simpkin.

The Women in Innovation programme was initially announced at VentureFest 2017 in partnership with Innovate UK, the North East England Chamber of Commerce and the Northstar Foundation.

Estelle Blanks, Executive Director at the Innovation SuperNetwork, who also plan and deliver both FinanceCamp and VentureFest North East, said: “Gender equality is as important an issue as it ever has been, especially in the business world. We have seen positive steps forward, but one thing that we consistently come up against are barriers to business growth because of unconscious bias in the workplace.

“The ‘Women in Innovation’ programme is a pilot working with selected businesses to help them address gender equality and maximise their growth potential by not only employing more women, but by supporting female career growth within their organisations.

“We’re working with a research team from Newcastle University to help us understand the impact of greater gender balance in the workplace and hope the programme will result in some interesting and pragmatic learning, which can be rolled out to the business community nationally.”

The objective is to focus on how barriers to growth linked to a lack of gender diversity can be removed. The programme includes ‘unconscious bias’ training delivered to local SMEs and Fund Managers alongside debates and discussions at key events, with the next discussion planned to take place at VentureFest North East on 14 November 2018.

The ‘Women in Innovation’ programme is free for businesses to take part in and is funded by the Northstar Foundation. For more information email

The panel debate was just one part of a day aimed at equipping businesses with tools and contacts they need to secure funding for growth.

More than 300 one-to-one meetings took place between businesses seeking funding and investors and lenders.

The keynote at this year’s FinanceCamp featured Andrew Mitchell, Chief Executive of the hotly-anticipated £120m North East Fund, Oliver Woolley cofounder of the private investor network, Envestors Ltd and Sukh Ryatt, Chief Executive of Oak Intranet, a Gateshead-based software company which has just completed a £2.7m funding round.

An address by Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England at the Northern Powerhouse Business Summit was also streamed live at FinanceCamp as a rare opportunity for North East businesses to have the chance to hear the Governor address the region.

FinanceCamp is part of the wider Innovation SuperNetwork programme, delivered with over 60 partner organisations to support innovation in the North East. Innovation SuperNetwork is supported by the North East LEP, Innovate UK, Northumbrian Water, Reece Innovation, Engie and the North East BIC, with part-funding from the European Regional Development Fund.



Notes to editor

European Regional Development Fund

FinanceCamp is part of a wider Innovation SuperNetwork North East England programme. The project is receiving up to £522,000 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.  The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit

The Northstar Foundation was set up to support entrepreneurship and social enterprise in the North East of England and Cumbria. The aim of the Foundation is to help charitable and voluntary organisations improve their operational and financial sustainability.

Find out more here. 

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