Since establishing over four years ago, the Venturefest brand has become synonymous with driving growth, supporting talent, stimulating investment, and celebrating innovation across the science and technology sector.

The 2018 instalment for the West Midlands continued the delivery of innovative products and services to the marketplace, addressing topical and contemporary developments with an audience of over 300 regional, national and international entrepreneurs, techies and investors at Innovation Birmingham’s iCentrum building.

Organised by the Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands and Innovation Birmingham, sponsored by the West Midlands Combined Authority, and supported by the region’s six largest universities, Venturefest WM took place on Thursday 27th September, and presented a densely populated line-up comprising keynote speakers, panel sessions, visual demonstrations and workshops.

Julia Goldsworthy, Director of Strategy for the West Midlands Combined Authority , said:

“The West Midlands is the most investible place in Britain. The growth of our economy is outpacing much of the country, we’re creating more jobs than anywhere else, and we’re poised to turn this renaissance into a long-term, meaningful opportunity to build a strong, inclusive economy which benefits everyone in the region.

“We were delighted to support Venturefest, and to meet with local businesses and investors who are helping to make our vision for the West Midlands a reality. It’s vital that regional business shares our confidence, and acts as a powerful, influential advocate for our plans – we look forward to continuing to work with the business community to secure our long-term economic success.”

Sponsored by intellectual property services provider Marks and Clerk , Pitchfest 2018 also remained a central piece in the programme’s structure. The annual culmination of exemplary pitches from small to medium-sized enterprises conjured a diverse showcase of promising businesses ranging from e-commerce and subscriptions solutions in the hair industry through to artificial intelligence applications targeting high quality research projects for fund managers.

David Ward, UK Managing Partner, Marks & Clerk said:

“As somebody working in the innovation space, seeing the range of entrepreneurs and start-ups at Venturefest that are trying to break the mould and build the businesses of tomorrow was a privilege.

“Getting the message out about Intellectual Property (IP) was also an opportunity I enjoyed. IP and innovation go hand in hand. A great idea is a useful start for up and coming businesses pitching for start-up and venture capital, but the key to success can often depend on protecting those innovative ideas and monetising them.

“Without such protection it’s all too easy for the competition to catch up, making the business a much less attractive proposition to would-be investors. I wish all the businesses we met well for the future and look forward to watching their progression.”

Anyone can dream

Two keynote speakers shared personal experiences from the machine manufacturing and business scale-up industries respectively. Marcus Burton, Director at Yamazaki Mazak UK Ltd provided expert insights into how businesses can realise their ambitions through implementing an effective strategy, ensuring considered approaches to marketing, and identifying gaps in markets through predicting future trends whilst maintaining solid management structures.

Sherry Coutu, Chairman of the Scaleup Institute and Founders4 Schools reflected on her experiences as an angel investor, placing an emphasis on the timeline running parallel to success or failure. Sherry highlighted the need for businesses to succeed or fail quickly to increase the number of fast growing and fast shrinking companies.

Initiatives cannot be just in one area

Spanning across digital publishing, independent research, local authority, aerospace and transport sectors, the triage of panels held throughout the day discussed growth opportunities in an evolving regional economy, business to business innovation, and fast growth.

Dr David Hardman MBE, Chair of Venturefest and Innovation Birmingham Managing Director said:

“Once again, the Venturefest brand and ethos emerged as a resounding success. The event presented something for all delegates, offering practical and implementable advice on how to grow a business, and encouraging entrepreneurs into pressurised pitch environments to streamline opportunities for direct investment. Events like Venturefest help to bring the digital tech and science sectors together and connect the people with amazing ideas with vital funding sources and commercial networks that will drive innovations into new and existing businesses promoting growth as new processes, products and services are delivered to the marketplace.”

Each comprising four expert panellists, sessions explored growth opportunities in the West Midlands as the region’s economy evolves; exemplified by leaders of fast-growth businesses and a session on B2B innovation. The discussions identified the short and long-term impact of major projects such as the Commonwealth Games and the 5G Demonstrator, explored the differences between product and process innovation, and outlined the strategies, tactics, support and challenges involved when launching a start-up business.

• Panel 1 – Growth Opportunities in an Evolving Regional Economy
(Packt Publishing, the West Midlands Economic Forum, West Midlands Combined Authority and British Business Bank)
• Panel 2 – Business to Business Innovation
(EEF, Midlands Aerospace Alliance, Federation of Small Businesses and Midland Metro Alliance)
• Panel 3 – Fast Growth Business Experiences
(Goldfish, Micro-Fresh, Celsium powered by Brunel, Off Grid Energy)

Pitchfest 2018

Pitchfest remained a central component within the Venturefest WM schedule, embedding a competitive element to the day where businesses were presented with opportunities to raise their profile and go head-to-head with each other to showcase their innovations in front of national investors.

Out of a shortlist of 11 finalists, three businesses made it to the Grand Final, with each company delivering their ideas to investors and entrepreneurs for a chance to win access to Minerva’s professional network of angel investors.

The shortlisted companies included Afrocenchix; direct to consumer brand formulating natural products for afro and curly hair through e-commerce and subscription services, Burning Barn Ltd; distilling unique, spiced rum and bringing craft and innovative favours to a traditional spirit, and Fregnan Limited; fintech company using artificial intelligence and web harvesting to produce data driven high quality equity research for fund managers.

Run by the Centre for Growth at Aston University , BizzInn at the University of Birmingham, and Minerva at the University of Warwick Science Park, over three million pounds has been generated by Pitchfest since its establishment.

Best Pitch Award 2018

Joycelyn Mate of Afrocenchix emerged as the winner of the coveted Best Pitch Award for 2018, with the company now continuing its strive towards acquiring £350,000 of investment to catalyse growth.

(Source: Innovation Birmingham)

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