VentureFest delegates urged to ‘think ahead’ to deal with long-term impact of Covid-19

Preparing to live with Covid-19 for the long-term’, was one of the key messages to come out of VentureFest North East today, with Dr Lucy Foley, Director of CPI Biologics speaking as part of a panel on accelerating innovation in times of crisis.

A focus on the longer-term impact of the last year was highlighted throughout the event as keynotes and sessions discussed the challenges and the opportunities that have arisen as a result.

Dr Foley, who was sharing CPI Biologics work as part of the UK Government’s vaccination taskforce, said: “through innovative manufacturing of biologics, the UK is in a good place to deal with Covid-19 as a virus that will be with us for the long-term.”

She was speaking on a panel following a keynote by global futurist Rohit Talwar, who urged delegates to take a leadership role in looking to the future and anticipating change, saying “we don’t need to know the cause, but the impact of emerging forces, and use this insight to come up with innovative responses”.

Considering the impact of digital over the last year, Dr Nicola Millard, Principal Innovation Manager at BT Enterprise led the morning discussion by talking about reinventing work for the future, including a focus on hybrid working models, which maximise the positive aspects of remote working while acknowledging the importance of getting people together in the same physical space.

In the discussion which followed, Jamie Campbell, Design Associate at the Rural Design Centre, stressed there was still work to do despite the success seen, with large numbers of people in rural communities without internet connectivity; he said: “Some people aren’t able to go down the digital route, with 356 houses in Northumberland alone not connected to electricity, it is hard for people working remotely and children trying to learn from home.”

In summarising, keynote speaker Dragons’ Den investor and entrepreneur Piers Linney, said: “Digital technology is moving at a pace that is accelerating at a high speed and we need to fix this inequality quickly to make sure everyone has access, otherwise these groups are going to be left behind!”

Looking ahead, Stewart Miller Chief Technology Officer at Innovate UK (IUK) highlighted the forthcoming release of a five-year strategy from IUK, which is expected in the autumn, to ensure innovation is a driver for national economic recovery from Covid-19.

Estelle Blanks, Executive Director at the Innovation SuperNetwork, said: “We’ve seen some really in-depth discussion today about both the complex challenges, and positive accelerated innovation to come out of the last year. What is clear, is there remains a huge amount of work to do and a real opportunity for the region’s innovative businesses to respond to the challenges we face as a society, to ensure a green and inclusive economic recovery from Covid-19.

“At the SuperNetwork we’ll continue to work collaboratively with policy makers, businesses and the innovation ecosystem locally, ensuring the region is best-placed to build a resilient and sustainable future.”

VentureFest North East was closed with the North East Innovation Awards, celebrating the impactful regional innovations from the last year. Innovation SuperNetwork CEO, Simon Green was hailed an ‘Innovation Champion’, nominated by the partnership he has built-up since launching the SuperNetwork in 2015.

Chris Jones, R&D Manager at Northumbrian Water, said: “As a business, we’ve worked with Simon for many years and have always been impressed with his tireless passion for innovation and his commitment to bringing the region together to help drive disruption.

“VentureFest North East has provided a platform to celebrate innovation, bringing the region together to collaborate on ambitious projects. Its success is down to Simon’s passion and the dedicated team he has built at the Innovation SuperNetwork. As he gets ready to step down as CEO, it is more than fitting that he is honoured with the Innovation Champion award, and I’m sure his commitment to supporting regional innovation won’t end here.”

Simon steps away from his role of CEO at the end of March. Speaking about the accolade he said: “It feels a little strange to be collecting an award as part of something I’ve worked with the team to build over the last few years, but I’m very honoured to be recognised by our partnership as having been part of their innovation journeys.

“And I think it is fitting, that one of the key things we’ve seen from this year’s VentureFest is a real focus on working together to drive the regional economy post-Covid-19 and support our communities. This type of collaboration has underpinned the work of the SuperNetwork and is the core premise of VentureFest itself. I’m looking forward to continuing to champion Innovation as I take a more active role in the Rural Design Centre and as Chair of the SuperNetwork, going forward.” 

VentureFest North East took place as a fully virtual event for the first time on 17th March 2021. The North East Innovation Awards’ shortlist was made up of businesses taking part in the programme’s Innovation Showcase with winners announced in five key regional sectors. Innovation of the Year was decided by delegates attending VentureFest via a live poll.   

The North East Innovation Awards’ winners are:

Manufacturing Innovation of the Year: Power Roll
Category partner: SAM Project, Sunderland University

Digital Innovation of the Year: Bottlepay
Category partner: Jumping Rivers

Energy Innovation of the Year: Axon Systems
Category partner: North East LEP

Healthcare Innovation of the Year: QuantuMDx
Category partner: Ward Hadaway

Social Innovation of the Year: Global Teacher
Category partner: Karbon Homes

Innovation of the Year: Climate Action North
Category partner: North East BIC

Innovation Champion: Simon Green
Category partner: Northumbrian Water


The Innovation Showcase is one of VentureFest’s most inspirational elements. It is delivered by the Innovation SuperNetwork in partnership with the North East BIC’s Innovation Programme.

In a change to previous years, the showcase also made up the shortlist for North East Innovation Awards’ sector specific categories, with winners decided by an independent industry panel in advance. Innovation of the Year was decided by delegate vote at VentureFest, with Innovation Champion by nomination.

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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