Venturefest East 2016 – a day of innovation and enterprise
A personal perspective by Huw Sayer, co-owner of Business Writers Ltd.
Where were you on Tuesday 24 May 2016? If you are interested in technology, innovation, enterprise and business networks, then you really should have been at Venturefest East in Newmarket. This was Venturefest’s first visit to East Anglia but it came at a great time, following on from the region’s success in the latest Technation report and the launch of TechEast.
Newmarket is the birthplace of the ‘sport of kings’, the home of the Jockey Club and the scene of some of the greatest races. As you drive down the tree-lined avenue towards the Rowley Mile Stands, you see large posters depicting past champions. The Stands also serve as an impressive conference centre, which made the perfect setting for this celebration of the region’s tech talent.
FROM FARMING AND GAMING TO THE FUTURE OF HEALTHCARE
Over 800 people, including innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders, turned up to network, share ideas, listen to talks and meet around 75 exhibitors. On display were some the most exciting start-ups in the region such as Alviol, an early-stage medtech business that’s developing a more efficient inhaler for people suffering from respiratory diseases. Alviol went on to win the event’s Fast & Furious pitch to investors.
Among the keynote speakers was Dr Ruth McKernan, from Innovate UK, who stressed the need to encourage more women to pursue STEM careers and create their own tech start-ups. She said her team was working to increase diversity in the projects it supports. On 26 May Innovate UK announced an exciting new initiative to encourage more women innovators to go into business.
Dr Hermann Hauser, from Amadeus Capital Partners, told delegates that this is the best time to be an entrepreneur. He gave five reasons, including better access to finance and rapid advances in technology. However, the most important was the UK’s increasingly entrepreneurial culture and the strength of local networks – something many of you in the TechEast community will agree with.
‘Inside an Entrepreneur’s mind’ was the theme of the talk by Dr David Cleevely, chair of the Raspberry Pi Foundation. He pointed out that entrepreneurs tend to be more risk averse than the average person but tend to have an overwhelming belief that they will succeed, no matter what. He went on to advise investors to focus on the people when valuing a company: “Don’t invest in a ‘B’ team, even if it has a great idea: better to invest in an ‘A’ team with a half-decent idea.”
TECH FOR A CLEANER, GREENER WORLD
Alongside the main sessions were two parallel sessions. These featured interesting panel discussions on precision medicine, agri-tech, clean tech, the internet of things, start-ups and scale-ups, and games design and development. It was particularly encouraging to see so many women taking part, including Dr Belinda Clarke from Agri-Tech East, Sarah Steed from Norwich University of the Arts, Claire Ruskin, CEO of the Cambridge Network, and Harriet Fear , CEO of OneNucleus.
Two tech companies stood out for me: one in the clean tech sector and one in agri-tech. Citrecycle is developing an environmentally friendly way to recycle lead-acid batteries, which currently cause one of the world’s 10 most toxic pollution problems. As well as saving lives in developing countries by reducing lead poisoning, Citrecycle will support small scale recycling that creates wealth in local communities. The company was justifiably a silver medallist in the Fast & Furious pitch.
Closer to home, Field Margin has developed an app that helps agronomists to record their observations more accurately using GPS tracking. This will help farmers manage their farms more efficiently both by saving time and by making tasks like irrigation and fertilisation more accurate and effective. If you know of any farmers who might like to trial the beta version, please share the link.
Congratulations to the organisers at the St John’s Innovation Centre in Cambridge and all their sponsors and supporters for such a successful event. You can find slides from the keynote speakers here and catch up on twitter by searching for #VFEast16 and looking at @VenturefestEast. We have also created a Storify of tweets from the morning to give you a flavour of the event.
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