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North East could become 'innovation hotspot', Venturefest conference is told; Wide range of local and national speakers share their success stories at popular technology event.

Byline: Robert Gibson

The North East has the potential to become one of Europe's "innovation hotspots", this year's Venturefest conference has heard.

Held at the Hilton Newcastle Gateshead today, the event saw more than 600 businesses, entrepreneurs, inventors, investors and advisers come together to explore new ideas, launch projects, meet contacts and broker funding deals.

Among the keynote speakers of the day was Hans Moller, innovation director with the North East LEP, who told the audience the region could establish itself as a hotbed of innovation by being clear about what differentiates it from the rest of the UK and building on these advantages.

The LEP, he said, was working heard to create the conditions for companies to thrive, developing strategic programmes to grow four area of specialisation -- the digital and tech economy; offshore energy and subsea engineering; automotive - particularly low-carbon vehicles - and the health and life sciences.

"The fact that this year's Venturefest North East was sold out well in advance is testament to the vibrancy of the inventive and entrepreneurial businesses operating here, and their interest in understanding how new technologies, finance and partnership opportunities can help them grow," he said.

"Innovation is one of the key priorities in the North East LEP's Strategic Economic Plan, and our aim is for the North East to become recognised as one of Europe's leading innovative hotspots.

"Part of our broader strategy is to build an 'innovation ecosystem', promoting dialogue and collaboration to create new products and services to deliver growth, and bring more and better jobs to the region."

Global ambition formed a major theme at the event, with industry experts sharing stories of their own successes, lessons they have learned and practical tools for growth.

Harry Swan of fourth generation chemical company, Thomas Swan & Co, of Consett, kicked off the morning session by sharing insights into his firm's approach to securing opportunities for innovation and offering advice on the benefits of seeking support through the likes of Innovate UK.

Tony Parraman, Head of Sponsor Liason at the Bloohound Project - a British engineering initiative to design a supersonic racing car that breaks the land speed record - likewise spoke of benefits of collaboration, inspiring others and making data available on a open source basis.

Other speakers included Jackie Marshall-Balloch of Innovate UK, a nurse-turned-trailbraizer for a revolution in long-term care and James Akrigg of Microsoft UK.

Among the homegrown talent was entrepreneur Darren Jobling of the Gateshead-based Eutechnyx and Zerolight, and Professor Max Robinson of County Durham technology company Kromek.

Venturefest North East director Simon Green said: "The clear message from this year's event is that this region is a hotbed of innovation.

"We have many exciting companies with the talent and capability to become world-leading and the support systems are being put in place by the North East LEP to ensure they fulfil their potential.

"The businesses, entrepreneurs and inventors gathered here have all seen real life examples of firms that have chosen not to cap their growth at [pounds sterling]100,000 or sell once they get to [pounds sterling]1m -- they've chosen the path less travelled and as a result are enjoying worldwide success.

"We hope that ambition becomes contagious."

The event, part of the national Venturefest Network, is supported by national partners Innovate UK and the Knowledge Transfer Network.

During the day, dozens of innovative companies also got the chance to meet potential investors and while those facing challenges with their operations sought the guidance of experts in a series of industry-specific workshops.

New innovative products and services with the potential to help put the region on the map were likewise demonstrated during an Innovation Showcase, organised in partnership with the North East Business and Innovation Centre.

Three of those involved - child safety device creators Brand Ami, video tagging developers VEO and pre-clinical allergy test company Alcyomics - had all secured funding following introductions to investors at Venturefest last year.

Others included companies focused on everything from beach wheelchairs to seaweed grown on land and virtual reality museum tours.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Chronicle (Newscastle upon Tyne, England)
Article Type:Conference news
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 13, 2015
Words:671
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