Venturefest Yorkshire at York race course is an annual festival of Yorkshire business, Yorkshire education and general Yorkshire worthiness. There are exhibitions, talks, competitions and all sorts of opportunities for networking. Exhibitors include schools, colleges and individuals with bright ideas as well as businesses and professional services firms. A flavour of what goes on can be gained from the videos on the Venturefest website. I know of nothing quite like it elsewhere in the North. BEX (Business Enterprise Exchange) in Manchester has the same sort of idea but nothing like the same dort of buzz.
This year’s event seemed to be as big as ever. Bigger, in fact, judging by the traffic that clogged the roads leading to the race course from the A64 to the extent that I missed the breakfast meeting for which I had paid £11.75. That, together with a slow moving, mile long queue snaking round the canteen put me in a vile mood until I met the delightful Amanda Lennon of Velocity Bradford, who could be relied upon to cheer up even Eeyore. I describe Amanda as my landlady because we now have an annexe at Velocity Bradford. We were joined at our table by the equally delightful Jacquie Asquith of Huddersfield Business Generator who are our new neighbours in the Media Centre. After meeting those ladies and consuming a cappuccino I felt a bit more sociable.
The seminars like the civil courts post Woolf were divided into three tracks:
- The “Investment Track“
- The “Everything the Entrepreneur Needs” Track, and
- “Global Opportunities and Technological Innovations”
Those tracks were colour coded in the programme and on various notices around the building. Unfortunately, the rooms in which the talks took place were very difficult to find because the building has two sets of floors on different levels which do not always communicate with each other. There were some directions signs here and there, but these were about as easy to follow as the Paris underground map.
The first seminar was Rob Anderson of the SI Group on “Peak Performance”. That looked promising and I met a couple of old mates waiting for it to come on. One of these was IP lawyer James Love, formerly of Pinsents and Eversheds, who has now set up on his own in Harrogate. It was good to see him again and I wish him every success with his new practice. I also met John Whiteley of Henry & Hurst Holdings Ltd. (one of local movers and shakers of our little valley) and design consultant, David Kimberley of Synapse Design in Elvington. The early promise of Mr Anderson’s talk was quickly dispelled when he asked the audience to stand up with their feet 18″ apart, hold out their hands, and bring them together in a clap. That was my signal to exit. Someone rather more blunt in his speech than me described the exercise as “making bloody monkeys of the audience.”
For the next hour or so I wandered round the stands looking out for folk I knew. There were quite a few, Nic Morton of West Yorkshire Ventures, Ged Doonan of Leeds Patent Library on the Patent Office stand (but no sign of the great Miles Rees even though he was listed in the catalogue as the contact), Barbara Greaves and Charlotte Atkinson of YABA, Peter Wilson of Novograaf, Carin Burchell of Branded!, Steve Waud of BEF and Richard Hall of PD-m International. It was also nice to see some of the members of the Leeds and Sheffield Inventors Clubs doing the rounds – one actually with his own stand upon which he had displayed his invention which appeared to be a massive yellow hub cap.
Feeling guilty about missing Peak Performance I decided to return to the seminar programme and try one of the events that SI had sponsored. That turned out to “How to sell your idea’ by Lillian Ayala of Fusebox. Lilian is a North American lady who also liked to encourage audience participation. One exercise had a man feeding ball bearings through the top of a funnel racing against a lady coaxing ball bearings through the narrow end of a similar funnel. Guess who won. Harder to guess was the point of the exercise – but I did come in the middle of the talk so I may have missed something. Her next exercise was to divide the audience into Trinis and Susannahs and then pick two hapless members of the audience and get them to describe their businesses. One man was selling a computer security product. The other had something that well might have been a whole lot more useful but was certainly a hell of a lot more difficult to describe. She then asked us to pick who had come over better. “Thank Heavens she didn’t pick me” I mused. “How on earth could I describe what I do.”
Next up was Intellectual Property chaired by Anne Salisbury, formerly of West Yorkshire Ventures but now a business development consultant with acceleris. Alex Weston of Denison Till guided us through all the intricacies of patents and trade marks stepping seamlessly from the PCT to Madrid and back again. She was followed by Jim Rowland of Xiros Plc which appears to have been a veritable Maecenas to patent agents. When the time came for questions I asked Jim why there were not more businessmen like him in this country. A question that he sidestepped deftly by explaining that he was more of a technical person than a businessman.
The last talk I attended was “Technological Innovations update facilitated by Science City York”. To be accurate I attended the questions rather than the talk. One of the presentations had been about an artificial nose. With Sieckmann in mind, I asked the speaker whether his machine could print out a graphical representation of the smell of say Chanel No 5. The answer was that the machine would generate a considerable number of Excel spreadsheet pages but the readings would be different depending on temperature, atmospheric pressure and many other variables. However, the observation earned me a cup of tea and convivial chat with the inventor until it was time for the cocktail party and dinner.
That is always the high point of the evening because the winners of the festival’s awards are announced. The award that interests me most is the “Engineering Inspirations” prize for Yorkshire schoolchildren. The winner this year was a 6th former at York College called John Hattam. Accepting his award, John described the four big Fs in his life: Family, Friends, Football and Faith. The last seemed to be particularly important to him and he spoke passionately about it emphasizing that there need be no conflict between technology and religion. There may be more of a conflict between his faith and football because he assured us that England was 1-0 up in the friendly against Spain when the result was in fact the other way round. My only criticism is that he did not actually say what he had done to win his prize – unlike Emily Cummins who won the award 2 years ago. I can remember exactly what Emily did even after the passage of time.
Dinner was followed by a speech by Amar Latif who won the Young Business Entrepreneur of the World and trekked across the Nicaraguan jungle and up an active volcano. Amar is Glaswegian. The Clyde is famous for its passionate oratory. Amar is a typical exponent of that art – as is Dr John Reid MP. His message seemed to be that nothing is achieved by aping others. Perhaps – but isn’t it also true that we build on the work of others.
So that is how I spent yesterday. A good day was had by all, I’m sure. However, I have enjoyed previous years rather more . In the past many of the big Leeds law firms had stands. Langleys, Denison Till and Harrowell Shaftoe were there, but they are all from York. Neither of the two local firms that actually specialize in IP and technology law – that is to say Pemberton Reid and YorSolicitor – was there. As for patent agents, Murgitroyd and Novagraaf had stands but I recognized no patent agent from Leeds, Sheffield or even Halifax.
The first time I attended Venturefest Prof Robards celebrated the change of the name of the event from Venturefest York to Venturefest Yorkshire and looked forward to a further name change to Venturefest North. That has not yet happened and on present trends is not likely to happen. One of the curses of the North is that we don’t think of ourselves as a region. When IPCEX holds events in Leeds we attract an audience from all over the country except Lancashire. When we hosted Jeremy Phillips in Liverpool folk travelled up from London and Worthing but not from Leeds. It is worth remembering that the red rose and white rose were picked in the Temple Gardens in London – a case of divide et impera by the metropolis, perhaps. Until we come together as a region we shall always be provincial with all that that entails.