With COVID-19 dominating the waking thoughts of every investor, attending an innovation and investment summit might not seem like the highest priority right now – but that is precisely the reason why they should be signing up, according to the organiser.

Estelle Blanks, Executive Director of the Innovation SuperNetwork, says now is the perfect time for investors to come together with policymakers and business in the North East to support early-stage and growing companies. And she should know, with over 20 years’ experience in economic development through regeneration and innovation across the UK and in Europe.

“Everyone thinks they need to be focused on just trying to get through the next 6-18 months, but this is the optimum time for us all to persuade government and investors to funnel resources to the North East. Otherwise, we face an enormous, proven funding gap – one that is already difficult to overcome.”

To draw attention to the regional gap in innovation funding and showcase the strengths of North East businesses, the Innovation SuperNetwork is holding the Accelerating Investment and Innovation Summit on 29 September 2020.

Several years in the planning, it will be delivered entirely online, making it simple for the time-poor to dip in and out, but the summit will also have valuable new information on how investment and innovation can accelerate the recovery from COVID-19 and prepare regional economies for the onset of the end of the EU exit transition period. 

The Innovation SuperNetwork is building a diverse investor community in the North East and connecting innovative businesses with equity investment and grant or loan funding. The SuperNetwork has helped several hundred businesses on their funding journeys and helped to establish an investor network in the region through the Newcastle Angel Hub.

Estelle says the major draw of September’s summit is the speaker list, which features some of the UK’s most senior names in business investment – Sherry Coutu, serial entrepreneur and angel investor; Henry Kippin, Director of Economic Growth at the North of Tyne Combined Authority; Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, Henri Murison; seasoned Angel Investor, Meganne Houghton-Berry; and Henry Whorwood, Head of Research and Consultancy at investment insight and analytics firm Beauhurst.

So why a summit, and why now? “There have been some really solid investment gains in recent years, particularly in our development of a 60-plus strong angel network through the Newcastle Angel Hub - but Deloitte’s August 2020 report, The Future of Growth Capital, made for very depressing reading, as it clearly shows the continuation of a huge gap in UK capital growth funding - amounting to a staggering £15bn.

“We’re in turbulent times, with COVID-19 laying waste to many business sectors, while at the same time we’re preparing to leave the EU, currently without any significant trade agreements in place,” Estelle said.

She continued: “Our North East companies are typically responding to this double-edged sword with fire in their bellies – not just surviving but also adapting and finding new markets and new ways of doing business. This is the perfect example of innovation – but the funding they desperately need to keep growing is well short of what the rest of the country sees and enjoys.”

A 2017 Beauhurst Funding Innovation report suggested that the North East received less than 4% of the total innovation grant and equity funding available in the UK. The gap was further highlighted in a recent Nesta report (The Missing £4 billion, May 2020), which suggests an investment of £1.6bn is needed in the north to help rebalance national spend in R&D.

“We need more serendipity to connect the dots and increase the level of interaction in the region across all the great innovation assets we have – because at the moment, it’s not translating across to business that they can form amazing partnerships with places like universities, for example,” Estelle said.

She continued: “We’re also lagging behind on R&D and patent applications – which aren’t always a reliable measure of innovation – but it does support the general feeling across the business community that innovation is just about tech, when in fact it can totally be about creating efficiencies in existing systems, or be a tool for growth.

“Activities like Venturefest already do a lot to celebrate North East companies, and the summit is another way we hope to get more investment eyes focused on what’s really on offer here and why they should be jumping at the bit to get long term finance on the table.

 “At the end of the day, the only way we are going to close the funding gap is by showing investors that they can’t shy away from the need for huge investment – and this won’t happen on its own. There also has to be a long-term take on it, so think less two-year initiatives and more long term planning and support."

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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