North East businesses attending VentureFest North East 2016 tested a new service designed to provide them with opportunities to win contracts by solving the real-world challenges of corporates, the public sector and society at large.
The record number of delegates who attended the region’s innovation conference at St James’ Park, Newcastle, learned how Innovation Challenge has been developed to act as an ‘innovation ecosystem’ for the region’s business community – with smaller businesses providing solutions to larger organisations.
The project, delivered by Innovation SuperNetwork – the team also behind VentureFest North East – brings together the needs of big businesses with the skills, services, talent and technological ability of the North East to maximise the growth of the region.
Turning challenges into commercial opportunities
Launched online this summer at supernetwork.org.uk, Innovation Challenge provides a quick and simple way for companies and entrepreneurs to see at a glance operational challenges that could be turned into commercial opportunities for their business.
At VentureFest North East delegates had the chance to meet face-to-face with a range of organisations that are currently seeking solutions to specific issues including Northumbrian Water, ENGIE and Durham County Council and discuss how their business might be able to help.
Caroline Hopkins, UK & Ireland Development and Innovation Director of ENGIE, spoke to businesses about their potential to provide a range of solutions for the global energy and services group including how to improve air quality.
Tapping into intelligence
Caroline said: “The North East is a hotbed of innovation and we’ve always known that the business community here has the skills and talent to help us tackle our operational challenges. The Innovation Challenge project provides us with a simple way to tap into this intelligence and provide us with the best chance to find the best solutions.
“We have challenges, the business community has solutions – it’s win-win for everyone. It’s been really exciting to talk face-to-face with so many innovative companies that we could possibly be doing business with in the future.”
Access to new markets
Anu Chandra, a former strategist at Nokia who moved from London two years ago to set up Durham-based data analysis company Rylore, was among the many businesspeople introduced to potential new clients on the day. He hopes to a conversation he began with Northumbrian Water Group about how his firm can potentially provide sophisticated machine-led solutions to mapping the region’s vast sewage network could lead to work in the future.
He said: “The Innovation Challenge project is very exciting for a business like ours that employs six people and is looking to grow. It not only gives us access to very large companies with very interesting problems but it also helps us to form quality relationships with the people behind them. The additional insight provided by the Innovation Challenge team means we can really understand what companies are looking for before we suggest how we can add value.
“Northumbrian Water has a massive amount of complex data that we can crunch and apply our skills to and it would be fantastic for a Durham company to be able to get the opportunity to provide their solutions.”
Sharing networks and knowledge
Making connections and sharing networks and knowledge to accelerate business growth was an overarching theme of VentureFest North East this year, and the event attracted record crowds of around 700. Delegates had a chance to learn innovation tools and see innovation in practice during an innovation sandpit run by Northumbria University, which used an intense process to generate ideas and tackle a challenge based on managing the flow of people in and out of the region.
During Innovation Showcase delegates had the chance to talk to the brains behind 17 innovative businesses who’ve developed everything from ways to monitor the relationship between a horse and its rider during dressage events to x-ray technology used to diagnose osteoporosis.
Businesses were given access to the expertise of 40 speakers, 30 investors, 70 exhibitors and 50 industry leaders through a packed programme of keynote speeches, lively debates, informal discussions, issue-led focus sessions and 200 investor meetings.
Keynote speakers included: Nigel Mills, Entrepreneurs’ Forum, Gilbert Corrales, Leaf Music, Lucy Armstrong, The Alchemists and Ian Campbell, Innovate UK.
Phenomenal event to celebrate and showcase innovation
Estelle Blanks, Deputy Director at Innovation SuperNetwork which delivers VentureFest North East, said: “What a phenomenal event this has been to celebrate and showcase the innovative spirit of the North East. To have attracted our largest crowd of innovators to date is testament to the wealth of ideas being generated by the region and a sign of the scale of ambition here.
“When we first engaged with Innovate UK back in 2012 to bring the event up to the North East we struggled to believe that it could attract the same critical mass as it did in Oxford. But we did it.
“By stimulating new ideas, building networks, brokering funding deals and providing practical tools for business growth, our aim is to increase the number of innovative products and services coming out of the region still further.”
VentureFest North East is part of the wider Innovation SuperNetwork programme, developed with around 50 partner organisations to support innovation in the North East. Led by the VentureFest North East team, the SuperNetwork is supported by Innovate UK, the North East LEP, Northumbrian Water Group and North East BIC, with part-funding from the European Regional Development Fund.