Q and A with Estelle Blanks of Innovation SuperNetwork

Industry Insights

Q and A with Estelle Blanks of Innovation SuperNetwork

26th April 2023

Innovation SuperNetwork connects businesses in North East England with the opportunities, finance and support needed to innovate and grow.

Supported by 60 partners, including all five regional universities and high-profile organisations across the public and private sectors, it brings together the innovation ecosystem to support economic growth.

Horizon Works is proud to be a partner of Innovation SuperNetwork and we’ve supported many of its initiatives through delivering webinars and seminars.

We’re also looking forward to exhibiting at VentureFest North East, organised by Innovation SuperNetwork, which is taking place this year at The Boiler Shop in Newcastle on May 10 and The Common Room in Newcastle on May 11. VentureFest North East is an innovation conference designed to help North East innovators, investors and entrepreneurs, start-ups and SMEs grow their business through connections, inspiring speakers and practical workshops.

As VentureFest approaches, we caught up with Estelle Blanks, CEO of Innovation SuperNetwork, to find out more about the network, VentureFest and her career…

Tell us about your role at Innovation SuperNetwork

As CEO at Innovation SuperNetwork, my responsibilities are many, but largely focus on ensuring our team of innovation experts can continue to provide invaluable support to as many of the region’s businesses as possible.

The SuperNetwork is born out of a culture of collaboration and inclusion, so my role is to champion that internally, and externally working with partners in business and the public sector to ensure inclusive innovation is top of their agendas.

What have been your proudest moments at Innovation SuperNetwork to date?

There are many, but I think it’s worth reflecting on VentureFest North East as we enter our 10 year anniversary.

The conference has grown and evolved as the innovation capacity within the region has grown with it. In that time, and through the work of the SuperNetwork, we have seen an increase in the number of innovative businesses in the region. We’ve supported more than 1200 companies and leveraged more than £25 million in investment for businesses in the last three years alone. Most importantly, this work has had impact at an economic and individual level. The businesses we’ve helped have solved societal challenges, accelerated the use of innovative technology and had delivered real impact for the customers they serve.

What is different about VentureFest North East this year – and why were those changes introduced?

VentureFest has been on a journey over the last few years, adapting to the impact of Covid 19.

We have gone from being entirely online in 2021 to last year hosting a one-day event in person with a second day of online workshops.

This year we’re back at the Boiler Shop on day one and hosting a full day of workshops on day two at the Common Room in Newcastle. Our vision is for the event to continue to grow, building on its roots as an innovation festival as a multi-day, multi-venue opportunity for regional businesses.

Why should a business or individual attend VentureFest? What will they get out of it?

VentureFest is the only cross-sector innovation event that takes place in the region and is an unmissable opportunity to come together with peers to build connections and start the collaborative conversations that could lead to new market opportunities and transformational projects.

Our keynote speakers also represent the cutting edge in business innovation, with a focus on building sustainable, inclusive economies. Speeches from Adah Parris (polymath and tech futurist) Martin Hunt (Forum for the Future) and Finbarr Dowling (Siemens) are not to be missed!

What are the North East strength’s as an environment for innovators to grow their businesses?

I think it’s safe to say the region has really come a long way in developing the right environment for businesses to innovate.

Our work is all about building out that ecosystem, and ensuring businesses can access all aspects of it. This could be clusters of sectoral strength, (of which we have several, not least in the areas of digital, energy, advanced manufacturing and health & life sciences), academia or industry research, the tools to deliver their own R&D, and importantly access to appropriate finance.

It’s important that we remain focused on ensuring all these elements come together to give local businesses the best chance of success and to support economic growth.

Why is it important to have an organisation such as Innovation SuperNetwork in the North East?

The North East LEP identified in their strategic economic plan the need for an organisation that could bring together the corporate companies, academic institutions, finance, local government and national networks to better enable innovation and support regional businesses.

Innovation SuperNetwork was identified as an anchor point organisation for that ecosystem here in the North East. By taking a co-ordinated, collaborative approach, our innovation capacity and capability within the region has grown substantially.

What does the rest of 2023 hold for Innovation SuperNetwork? What are your plans for the organisation?

We have several key priorities for 2023, all of which boil down to one overarching objective, and that is to enable inclusive and sustainable economic growth for the region by delivering tangible opportunities for businesses.

In particular, we have plans to grow our work to improve the access to finance journey for businesses seeking investment. We’ll be building on activity to date to understand the barriers facing companies, at all stages of growth, seeking equity.

Our activity will ensure the companies we work with can both ‘sell’ their offer with impact and gain access to regional, national – and where appropriate global – investors, networks and funds.

For more information on Innovation SuperNetwork, visit https://supernetwork.org.uk/