Dragon, Piers Linney to talk about success, failure and weathering the Covid storm at VentureFest North East

10 February 2021

Dragons’ Den investor and tech entrepreneur, Piers Linney is one of the inspiring keynote speakers joining the region’s innovation conference, VentureFest North East next month.

Taking place entirely online for the first time, VentureFest will focus on bringing businesses practical advice and opportunities for support against the backdrop of COVID-19, with a focus on using innovation to build resilient and sustainable business models.

Piers Linney is best known for appearing on Dragons’ Den, but he is also an active board member for the British Business Bank and a trustee with the UK’s leading innovation foundation, Nesta. He said: “I have experienced both success and failure, and what I know from this experience is the last year will have presented what will seem like insurmountable challenges for start-up and scale-up enterprises. The good news is there are many varying options for businesses working their way through the current climate. I’m looking forward to sharing my experience and insight on how innovation and collaboration can help businesses to thrive.”

Piers will open the event alongside Dr Nicola Millard, (Principal Innovation Partner, at BT Enterprise), bringing together their expertise on shaping the future of work, the role of investment and how digital inclusion and exclusion can have a varying and widespread impact on business resilience and society’s pathway to decarbonization.

Dr Nicola Millard, said: “We’ve learned during the pandemic that work can be done effectively in places beyond the office. But the future of work is neither about home working or office working… it’s about getting work done. Emerging is a digital first hybrid model – but, for that to work effectively, we need to fundamentally rethink old, analogue ways of working and reinvent them for a digital age.”

Estelle Blanks, Executive Director at the Innovation SuperNetwork who plan and deliver the conference, said: “It would have been impossible to put together a programme on innovation without thinking about the events of the last year.  The economic impact is still being felt, and there is much uncertainty still ahead of us. With this in mind, we wanted to emphasize through VentureFest the support available for local businesses. We’re working with our partners to highlight some of this support, delivering practical workshops and providing real market opportunities through innovation challenges. A strand on access to finance will also connect businesses seeking investment.”

What can delegates expect to see at VentureFest online:


The focus of the morning keynote will be digital adoption, reinventing work in the age of digital, and the impact of digital inclusion and exclusion. It will feature Piers Linney and Dr Nicola Millard. In the afternoon, the keynote examines innovation in times of crisis with inspirational case studies from local businesses who have all responded to the Covid pandemic with new products, services, or business models, including CPI, QuantumDX and Kromek.

Workshops & Innovation Challenges

Parallel workshops will run in the morning and afternoon with topics including Digital Adoption and Wellbeing. Our Innovation Challenge programme is an effective jumping off point for a collaborative approach to tacking problems in key sectors and wider society. At VentureFest there will be opportunities to explore challenges and supply chains in the energy sector, circular economies, events industry and health tech. 

Access to Finance

The Access to Finance strand will include a panel with national and regional investors discussing the investment eco-system and how it can support business resilience, but also the environment and sustainability through impact investment. An investor pitch event will take place in the afternoon, delivered through the Newcastle Angel Hub.

Exhibition & Networking

The SuperNetwork works with more than 50 partners, many of these partners will be available via a virtual exhibition offering specific support, grants and opportunities to North East businesses. The programme will also include scheduled speed networking in addition to the exhibition, including a session with investors.

Innovation Showcase and North East Innovation Awards

The Innovation Showcase is one of VentureFest’s most inspirational elements, celebrating innovation from across the North East in Energy, Digital, Healthcare, Manufacturing and Social Innovation. This year delegates can vote for their favourite innovation, with the most popular announced as ‘Innovation of the Year’ at the North East Innovation Awards.

Estelle added: “As always it’s an ambitious programme as we bring these opportunities together on one day. Delivering it online presents us with a chance to reach more businesses than ever before, which is important as we demonstrate the impact innovative practice can have in remaining resilient and sustainable in times of chaos.”

VentureFest North East takes place on Wednesday 17th March 2021. For more information and to register for your FREE place visit: https://supernetwork.org.uk/venturefest-north-east/

VentureFest North East is part of the wider Catalysing Innovation in North East Cluster Project delivered by the Innovation SuperNetwork. The SuperNetwork is supported by the North East LEP, Northumbrian Water Group, North East BIC and P&G, with part-funding from the European Regional Development Fund. 

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