VentureFest North East speakers are a diverse range of inspirational local and global talent who draw on their experience to inspire North East businesses to innovate.

VentureFest North East is all about creating a space for businesses from all sectors to network and learn from one another. This is why we handpick innovation experts with a compelling story to tell. 

Explore our diverse line-up of speakers below, and sign-up to our newsletter to be the first to hear about new speaker announcements. 

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2022 VentureFest North East speakers:

Andrew Grill

The Actionable Futurist, Futurist Keynote Speaker

Having worked for top companies such as IBM, British Aerospace, Telstra and Kred, the largest influencer platform in the world, Andrew has built a career at the forefront of digital disruption.

His experience running 6 high-tech start-ups over a 12-year period in the US, UK and Australia means that he not only “thinks like a start-up” but can provide strategic and actionable advice for companies on how to think and act in an agile way.

As ‘The Actionable Futurist’, he believes that “to get digital you need to be digital” and his engaging keynotes provide insights on how to achieve corporate goals on a global and long-lasting scale. Unlike traditional Futurists who paint a picture of the future in 10, 20 or even 50 years’ time, Andrew delivers practical and immediately actionable insights in every session.


Jude Ower MBE

Founder and CEO of Playmob

Jude is the CEO and Founder of Playmob, connecting the most socially conscious brands to millions of engaged global gamers, making the world a fairer place for all. Playmob has engaged over 140m gamers to take action for the global goals, covering areas such as; plastic pollution, mental health and climate change. She has worked with organisations such as Unilever, RB, TSB, Burberry, UNDP, UNEP and global gaming publishers such as EA, Rovio and Niantic.

Jude co-founded the Playing for the Planet Alliance with UN Environment and Grid-Arendal which is a collection of 21 major games studios, publishers and platforms taking action to protect and preserve the planet.

Being a supporter of business for good, Jude also supports DIT’s Global Entrepreneur Program bringing international impact-driven startups to the UK and supporting their global growth.

Jude was awarded Most Influential Women in Tech 2018 (Computer Weekly) and in the Maserati 100 2018 with the Sunday Times. In 2016 she was awarded an MBE for services to Entrepreneurship. In 2015 she won the Talent Unleashed award, judged by Sir Richard Branson and Steve Wozniak, as the ‘One to Watch in 2015’ and was shortlisted for the Veuve Clicquot ‘New Generation’ award May 2015. Jude has been voted top 100 women in Tech in Europe, Top 100 women in Games in the  UK and in the Creative England Top 50 2015. Jude is an accomplished speaker  and TEDx speaker, her work has been featured by the BBC, Forbes,& The Guardian

Dr Henna Bains

Mathematics & Engineering Researcher

Henna is a Mathematics and Engineering Researcher at Durham University, focusing on energy systems and handling uncertainty. In her work, Henna has developed a software tool for offshore wind planning and is now working towards bringing this innovation to a commercial environment.

Henna holds a Master of Mathematics degree and an Engineering PhD titled ‘Offshore transmission system planning under severe uncertainty’ from Durham University. In 2021, Henna became a Post Doctoral Research Associate in the Department of Engineering at Durham University. She is also a Fellow of the Durham Energy Institute (DEI). Henna is passionate about inspiring young people to get involved in STEM and has participated in and organised a range of science outreach events.

Estelle Blanks

CEO at Innovation SuperNetwork

With over 20 years’ experience in economic development through regeneration and innovation in the North East of England, and working across the UK and Europe, Estelle has a thorough understanding of the national and local innovation eco-system.

She has attracted and led multi-million-pound high-profile programmes in the North East region aimed at supporting new and growing innovative companies. Estelle has in-depth practical knowledge of open-innovation and challenge-led innovation to help address organisational and societal challenges. An expert in access to innovation finance, she has also supported hundreds of companies on their fundraising journeys.

Michael Brodie

CEO of NHS Business Services Authority

Michael has been Chief Executive of the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) since September 2019, having enjoyed a career in public service finance.  From August 2020 to October 2021 Michael also led Public Health England as its interim Chief Executive through to its closure as part of the transition to the new public health landscape.

Michael is a co-opted member of Council for the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), where he Chairs its Sustainability Forum, and he is a Trustee of the Community Foundation based in the North East which is the largest philanthropic organisation in Europe.

In 2022 Michael was listed by Health Business magazine as one of the top 50 most influential leaders in the NHS and in 2021 he was named by Inspiring Workplaces as one of the Top 50 Inspiring Leaders globally.  He is also a former winner of the “Future Leaders” award organised by Public Finance magazine and previously a winner of the Finance Director of the Year at the cross sector North East Accountancy Awards.

Dr Sophie Dale-Black

Director, UK Network - Midlands & North of England at British Business Bank

Dr Sophie Dale-Black is a Director within the British Business Bank’s UK Network, leading a team of senior managers in working with key organisations across the Midlands and the North of England to help the Bank understand and overcome the challenges facing smaller businesses in their access to finance journey.

A PhD-qualified scientist by training, Sophie previously worked at Innovate UK, the UK Government’s innovation agency, where she worked across the UK in various roles supporting the growth of innovative businesses, including through a Chief of Staff style role supporting the Chief Executive, Deputy Chief Executive and Chair.

Prior to that, Sophie built her career in research and innovation management at Loughborough and Nottingham universities, following an initial postdoctoral research position at Newcastle University.

Sophie holds voluntary roles at the University of Leicester, a £300-million income research-intensive institution, as Trustee, Council Member and Member of the Nominations and Remuneration Committees.

Helen Golightly OBE

CEO at North East LEP

Helen has been with the North East LEP since 2012, and the Chief Executive Officer since 2015.  As the senior executive at the LEP, Helen leads the delivery of the North East Strategic Economic Plan, working with partners to grow the local economy.  Her previous experience includes over twenty years in a number of local government roles in planning, regeneration, economic development and corporate governance.  She has extensive programme and fund management experience with responsibility of delivering a wide range of programmes and commercial negotiations.

Simon Green

Chair at Innovation SuperNetwork

Simon Green is the founder and Chair of Innovation SuperNetwork.

Simon’s background is in innovation within small business and corporate environments, having originally moved to the North East to work for Procter & Gamble on global programmes. He has launched five start-ups over the past decade, securing significant public and private funding in the process. He is founder and CEO of Rural Design Centre (focused on rural innovation) and ed/ge, an innovation and investment consultancy.

Rob Hamilton

Head of Investment & Economic Growth at North of Tyne Combined Authority

Rob returned to the North East fifteen years ago, to work in economic development.  Currently Chief Economist at the North of Tyne Combined Authority, he is responsible for their investment strategy and for the delivery of a range of programmes – including supporting businesses to start, grow, innovate, and create jobs.

Previously, Rob was Head of Economic Development at Newcastle City Council, working on projects including the NewcastleGateshead Accelerated Development Zone and NewcastleFutures, their novel partnership with Job Centre Plus.  Before that, he worked for a number of years at the Bank of England on monetary policy and financial stability issues.

Laura Kemp

Cluster Manager at Dynamo North East

Leading Dynamo North East’s Service Delivery Centre Cluster, Laura works with large regional employers to understand the challenges and opportunities of human and computer interaction. Over the past year Laura has been supporting businesses to use technology to overcome the challenges of remote working and is now looking ahead to future ways of working, including the sustainability of remote teams and managing hybrid working.

David Lynch

Energy Innovation Partnership Manager

David has 15 years’ experience working in the energy sector and attained a MA by Research at Durham University in 2014.  Having worked at National Energy Action (NEA) and the Energy Systems Catapult David is skilled in business planning, environmental awareness and project management. David look up the position of Energy Innovation Partnership Manager at the North East LEP in October 2019 and is leading on the North East Energy Catalyst programme, a ground-breaking partnership to unite the North East’s leading energy innovation demonstration and delivery capabilities.

Andy Mace

Director of Environment and Sustainability at ARUP

Andy joined Arup over twenty years ago with a passion for turning sustainability principles into reality.  From working on sustainable building designs and then eco-city masterplans in the UK, China, Kazakhstan, Russia and other countries, he quickly came to understand the need for outcomes-based design and delivery using integrated human and natural systems-based approaches, if we are to deliver net zero and other sustainable outcomes that support the UN SDGs.

Andy is based in Arup’s Newcastle office, with responsibilities across Northern Ireland, Scotland and the North of England.  He recently led Arup’s global initiatives around COP26 and was the project director for Arup’s role delivering sustainable event management on COP26 and the G7 Summit.  He recently led a collaborative study with Enel and several universities looking at the importance of the circular economy to city decarbonisation and is leading energy transition and net zero related projects for the Scottish Government, several local authorities and a major international airport.

Graeme Miller

Head of Innovation at the Innovation SuperNetwork

With a degree in Business Systems and IT, Graeme started his career in the commercial world of recruitment before moving into business support. With experience working across all five regional universities, the public and private sectors and a role with the North East Satellite Application Centre, he has significant strength of knowledge across the regional innovation landscapes.

Louise Patterson

Head of IT Operations and Resources at Northumbrian Water Group

Louise Patterson is Head of IT Operations & Resourcing at Northumbrian Water Group (NWG), where she leads a varied team covering Development, Testing, Networks, Cloud & Infrastructure, User Experience & Service Management.  Louise joined the Utilities sector during the pandemic in 2020, but prior to this, has held various leadership positions within the Food Retail sector within Technology covering Programme Delivery, Service Operations and Governance.  She has a real passion for IT Transformation and Customer Service whether that be delivering new and innovative technology solutions to improve business outcomes or transforming ways of working, to improve customer service.

Jeni Smith

Founder and Networking Strategist at Networking Knowho

Jeni is passionate about connecting people. When people come together powerful things happen: relationships are built, knowledge is shared and sparks of innovation are fired.

With fourteen years’ experience in the networking industry, Jeni now teaches networking skills and creates networking strategies to help people come together and build effective, long-term relationships. During her career she has won a number of awards in enterprise including being named within the ‘Future 100 Young Entrepreneurs’ in the UK in 2010, and ‘Growth Accelerator Programme’ winner 2012. Results from academic research done with Durham University spurred her on to launch Networking KnoWho, a new networking consultancy, to help individuals and businesses become more confident, efficient and strategic networkers.

Paul Swift

Senior Director for Europe at Procter and Gamble (P&G)

Paul is P&G’s Director for Open Innovation in the UK, helping to initiate partnerships to meet today’s needs across the Procter & Gamble business: for products, technology, in-store, e-commerce and the supply chain. P&G is a company of leading Home & Personal Care brands including Ariel, Fairy, Pampers, Always, Gillette, Oral-B, Vicks, Head & Shoulders and Olay.

Lee Viney

Regional Manager - Yorkshire, Humber & North East at Innovate UK

Lee Viney has a background in public sector economic development specialising in entrepreneurship, innovation, and commercialisation, with cross policy links into skills, trade and investment and business finance.

Innovate UK is the UK’s Innovation Agency and as part of UK Research & Innovation, they focus on helping businesses to commercialise new ideas – businesses that are leading the way and creating solutions to global challenges. Innovate UK helps them to grow, create jobs and realise the economic and societal benefits of their ideas.

As a non-departmental public body, Innovate UK is funded by Government via the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and has been fundamental to delivering the Industrial Strategy, and is now focused on delivering the UK Innovation and our Plan for Action.

Craig Woodburn

Head of ESG at Britishvolt

Craig is a passionate and highly experienced ESG professional. He is responsible for developing Britishvolt’s sustainability/ESG strategies and reporting for all activities, a crucial pillar to overall business success. His previous roles include as an environmental and planning regulator, consultant and business lead both in the UK and various locations across the globe.

Craig has worked most recently in the automotive sector developing strategies and systems to support global sustainability, compliance and reporting around Net Zero at Jaguar Land Rover. He led integration of sustainability within JLR’s new plants in Brazil and Slovakia, other global operations, and worked with suppliers on sustainability ambitions. Prior to this he worked with international clients as a manufacturing business sector leader managing a cross functional team leading on sustainability, permitting and environmental compliance including assessing investment opportunities for banks and due diligence transactional support.

Craig is a Chartered Water and Environmental Manager, Chartered Scientist and Chartered Environmentalist and also volunteers as a mentor for students at Nottingham Trent University.