VentureFest North East is all about creating a space for businesses from all sectors, of all sizes to network, collaborate and learn from one another.

That’s why we handpick a diverse range of inspirational speakers from regional, national and international platforms who have a story to tell, who have transformed their sector and have business advice to give.

Our speakers are at the forefront of innovation and draw on their experience to offer delegates advice on how to use innovation to take their business to the next level, whether it’s growing, getting investment or gaining new connections.

The list below will be updated as more speakers are confirmed for VentureFest North East 2021. To be the first to know about programme announcements sign up to our newsletter. If you haven’t already registered, get your free ticket now.

Piers Linney

Dragons' Den investor and entrepreneur

Piers Linney is a technology and telecommunications entrepreneur and investor with a professional City background in law, investment banking and hedge fund management.  He is best-known as an investor on BBC2’s Dragons’ Den and is a well-known and highprofile champion of entrepreneurship, small businesses, diversity, and inclusion.  Piers is a NonExecutive Director of the government-owned British Business Bank, has been recognised as one of the UK’s top 20 Ethnic Minority Executives and is actively involved as a founder in new businesses ranging from 3D printed mountain bike manufacture to a small business service provider.  

Piers has personal and professional experience on all sides of the table as an entrepreneur, adviser, executive or non-executive board member, investor, and lender. Having experienced both success and failure he is a recognised champion of entrepreneurship, technology, and small and medium-sized enterprises. Although it is difficult to align objectives, culture and timescales, Piers believes that value can be created by partnerships between small innovators and large enterprises. 

Dr Nicola Millard

Principal Innovation Partner at BT Enterprise

Once described as “human caffeine” on Twitter, Dr Nicola Millard injects a positive, people-centred expresso shot to innovation and future strategy. Half social scientist, half technologist, all academic, she uses techniques from disciplines such as design thinking, psychology, anthropology, computing, and business consulting to generate data, provocations and stories which can engage and create conversations from the board room, to the front line. No frothy coffee; just solid research. 

In her long and varied career at BT, Nicola has been involved with several BT firsts, including the first application of artificial intelligence into BT’s call centres, BT’s initial experiments with home working, and helping to develop BT’s “net easy” score, a new way of measuring customer experience. She currently looks at innovation in both employee and customer experience. 

Nicola is an award-winning presenter, with 2 TED talks and hundreds of conference panel, chair and keynote sessions under her belt. She occasionally pops up on radio and TV around the world, including appearances on ‘Woman’s Hour’, ‘Tech Tent’, ‘The Genius of Invention’ and ‘Back in Time for the Weekend’ for the BBC. 

Lucy Winskell

Pro Vice-Chancellor (Employability and Partnerships) at Northumbria University

Lucy has been a member of the Executive team at Northumbria University since 2010, having made the transition into higher education following a 28-year career as a litigation lawyer.

Her non-executive career has been focussed on economic growth and regeneration within the North East.

Lucy’s regional roles have included Board Member of the North East Regional Investment Fund and North East Access to Finance (both supporting SME growth); non-executive Director of Government Office North East; Chair of the North East Industrial Development Board; Board Member of ING; Vice Chair of BE Group and a Member of CBI Regional Council.

Lucy was  Chair of the Board of the North East England Chamber of Commerce (NEECC) for six years, standing down at the end of that term in October 2020.

She has also been a strong advocate for the region at a national level. As a member of Arts and Humanities Research Council she highlighted the importance of the cultural and creative sector in a regional economy, and as Vice Chair of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) she has ensured a regional voice forms part of BCC’s lobbying and policy work.

Dr Arnab Basu MBE

Chief Executive Officer of Kromek Group

Dr Arnab Basu is the founding CEO of Kromek Group plc, a supplier of patented radiation detection technologies to the Medical Imaging, Nuclear Detection and Security Screening markets globally with operations in Durham and Huddersfield in the UK, and Pennsylvania and California in the USA.

Dr Basu successfully led Kromek through five rounds of private equity financing of over $40 million, including its first institutional Venture Capital funding in 2005. More recently, he led the successful acquisition and integration of California based NOVA R&D Inc., in 2010; eV Products Inc., in Pennsylvania, US, in 2013 and a successful listing on AIM, at the London Stock Exchange, in October 2013, raising over $65m in the market. Arnab has extensive experience in international business in USA, Europe, Middle East and Asia and has led M&A’s, formed strategic partnerships and raised equity. Arnab has also been part of many trade missions including a Prime Minister led mission to India in November 2016 and has led UK trade missions to Asia.

A prominent figure within the business community, Dr Basu is currently chair of the Academic Health Science Network for the North East and North Cumbria (AHSN) and council member of Innovate UK

He previously served as a Board member of the North East LEP (leading Inward Investment), the Go-Global Partnership (trade contract delivery for UKTI), the North-East Innovation Strategy Board, Business Durham, a member of the International Advisory Board of Newcastle University Business School, chair for the steering group of Health Quest (Grand Challenge) for the North East LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) and is a founding member of Northern Futures UTC (University Training College in partnership with Sunderland University), in Newcastle.

Jonathan O'Halloran

CEO and co-founder of QuantuMDx Group

Jonathan is the inventor of QuantuMDx’s proprietary sample preparation, amplification and detection technologies. After studying for his PhD in genomics, Jonathan began his career working in pathology laboratories in the UK. He was consistently frustrated by the speed at which the laboratory was able to turn tests around, whether that be through the need to batch samples, transportation of samples, or simply the long analysis time. During his time in the pathology lab, Jonathan defined the specifications for a POC MDx device and then set to build and alter the technologies to facilitate his dream in his garage at home. This early work was the foundation for which QuantuMDx’s technology is built upon.

Jonathan spent two years in Cape Town, working to develop QuantuMDx’s technology in the market that will benefit the most from it. He spent many hours a week talking with frontline health workers, who routinely perform POC Dx, to understand the field. This experience with the battle against drug resistant tuberculosis has been channelled into the design of QuantuMDx’s diagnostic devices, making them uniquely suited for the challenges the world now faces due to drug resistant bacteria. Jonathan was recognised for his achievements in 2015 when he was awarded European CTO of the Year. He advised Lord O’Neil’s Review on Antimicrobial Resistance in 2014 and is quoted in the 2018 book “Superbugs – An Arms Race against Bacteria”.

Fareeha Usman

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Innovation Manager at Dynamo North East

Fareeha Usman is a multi-award winner, philanthropist and an Entrepreneur for Good. A global voice of authority on gender equality, diversity and inclusion she is the Founder of Being Woman Charity and the mind behind the food sharing app “Share Karo”, launched to provide an integrated system to distribute food and essentials for the people in need. She is a Trustee for YMCA Northumberland, Board Member Healthwatch Northumberland and an advisor to TechMums whilst being an Agile Business Analyst.

In her role as EDI Innovation Manager at Dynamo North East Fareeha is working to foster better understanding of EDI in the North East Tech Sector. She has been actively promoting digital and social inclusion in Northumberland UK through her work and is one of 100 Tech Up Women Programme by Dr Sue Black. She strongly vouches for the promotion of equality and diversity and supports BAME, asylum seekers and refugee women and families. Fareeha strongly believes that people should be recognised on the basis of their talent and capabilities rather than judged on colour, race, age or gender. Through her work she has established that we can certainly break barriers if we are ready to make that change. It is all about accepting each other and dignifying the abilities we all possess.

Jamie Campbell

Design Associate at the Rural Design Centre

Jamie is a passionate Designer, and has worked in the design industry for over 14 years.

He has experience in various design disciplines, and his current focus is on digital experience and service design. Jamie has worked for organisations large and small, and across many sectors including; tech, higher education, local government, financial, healthcare, and the third sector.

He is currently a Design Associate for the Rural Design Centre, helping to bring together people and organisations, and using co-design to solve issues faced by rural communities. He gets his energy from doing helpful design that will benefit people and the planet.

Ammar Mizra CBE


Ammar Mirza CBE, MBA, FInstLM, FRSA, is a multi-award winning, sought after enterprise, leadership & business management consultant.  A self-made serial entrepreneur with investments across a number of sectors and industries.

Over a 19 year period Ammar has helped establish several hundred new businesses. Through his various roles including chairman and founder of not-for-profit Asian Business Connexions CIC, chair of the North East LEP’ Business Growth and founder of the SME Centre of Excellence, Ammar has made a significant social and economic impact across the Globe.

Ammar’s many accolades include Maserati top 100 Entrepreneur, English Asian Entrepreneur of the Year 2019 and being appointed a CBE by Her Majesty the Queen.

Cam Ross

Chief Operating Officer at Green Angel Syndicate

Cam Ross co-founded, jointly ran and raised 2 rounds of Business Angel funding for a contact centre payments business, with an exit by sale to AIM-listed Eckoh plc.  Cam is an Aeronautical Engineer by training, and has experience in creating, commercialising and patenting new technology. He has twelve granted patents in the fields of telecommunications, payments and customer authentication. He has a practical ability to analyse and improve complex processes, from manufacturing to software systems. Cam manages Technical Due Diligence for Green Angel Syndicate.

Cam is also a Board member of SocietyWorks, the commercial arm of the not-for-profit social enterprise mySociety, which builds technology to help democracy, transparency, and community in the UK and overseas.

Helen Oldham

Founding Board Director at North Invest

Helen is a Founding Board Director of a highly successful early stage investment connector for tech start-ups;  NorthInvest, a NED, mentor, and Chair of the Trustees for Smart Works Leeds which provides coaching and clothing to unemployed women.

Helen supports entrepreneurs and Northern based SMEs to reach their potential.

Jason Hobbs

Chief Executive at the North East Fund

Jason has worked in the development of the access to finance infrastructure in the North East for the past 16 years.  During this period he has helped to develop and manage over £300m of investment funds, including the £160m JEREMIE Fund, and is currently Chief Executive of the £120m North East Fund.

Having qualified as a chartered accountant with Ernst & Young, he previously worked at Black & Decker’s manufacturing plant in County Durham, before joining The Health Clinic, a venture capital backed company that successfully floated on the London Stock Exchange.