VenturefestNW 2018 stepped up its game along with the venue when it took to the stage yesterday at Manchester Central. The innovation conference decided to move from the split level Bridgewater Hall venue last year.

The event’s new choice of venue importantly brought and kept the delegates together in a more meaningful way. The Business Growth Hub has successfully taken its flagship event to a new level.

The centrepiece for the expo area was the Bloodhound Project. The actual car in the venue is using a 1000mph world land speed record attempt to inspire the next generation to explore and get involved in STEM. Innovating a car to go supersonic is a showcase example of the high tech innovation that can be achieved.

The main auditorium was superbly hosted by former Altrincham Grammar School pupil Priya Lakhani OBE, CEO of Century.

The conference was opened with a key note from Jenny Tooth, CEO of UK Business Angels Association. Whilst is it was interesting to hear Richard Noble OBE share his story in the afternoon, for me the top speaker was Mike Anderson of Padoq.

It was fascinating to see the 2016 Venturefest winner on stage sharing their journey from winning the competition with a concept two years ago to celebrating the launch of the app this month and what they learned along the way. Vital lessons and tips he was sharing with his fellow entrepreneurs and very relevant for the audience.

I was delighted to join the Three Tribes Panel on stage before lunch with a team of notable experts not least Tooth, alongside Scott O’Brien of Innovate UK, Guy Weaver of Introstream, who recently left KPMG for funder Praetura, Jonathan Faulkner, of HMG Paints, and rejoined by Mike from Padoq to give feedback on the pitching competition.

At the centre of this year’s event was the annual Innovation Showcase Competition, which was open to start-up and scale-up businesses from across the region. A total of 12 companies had been shortlisted from more than 170 entries across four categories – product innovation, service innovation, digital innovation and innovative established business – and were all hoping to securing business support package worth thousands of pounds and national visibility.

All 12 pitches were impressive. Every founder came across confident and nailed their content. It came across as a very inclusive pitch competition with five of the pitches female led, but importantly three of the five winners came from that cohort of women demonstrating their place at the table.

The winner of innovative established business was Whitham Mills, led by Abby Molloy, for its food waste tipping solution; Urban Chain triumphed in the service innovation category with Dr Someyah Taheri;  the digital innovation award went to Corporation Pop; and the overall winner was Jo Taylor with Reach and Rescue.

Jo and her co-founder Sean Burke invented a 17-metre rescue pole used by 80 per cent of the UK’s fire and emergency services. It shows that whilst Bloodhound is laudable, innovation can also be simple and well-thought-out engineering.

With lots going on in smaller breakout rooms from funder speed dating, group mentoring, intellectual property it made for a very worthwhile day for founders looking to be the VentureFest winners of the future.

Well done Business Growth Hub.