Innovation Trends and Digital Disruption at VentureFest North East 2017

I recently attended a morning at VentureFest North East, an event packed with innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and experts. The day aims to spark new ideas, help make business connections and generate new exciting opportunities.  

The morning breakout session of Innovation Trends and Digital Disruption was excellent. Provocative thoughts and debate on current societal and technological challenges, and how innovation presents opportunities for business.

Innovation Trends and Digital Disruption

Chairing the panel was Lars Erik Holmquist, Professor of Innovation at the Northumbria School of Design. Professor Holmquist explained that digital technologies have been causing disruption to most business and services, creating billion-dollar enterprises and bankrupting others. A huge opportunity is available for organisations, helping identify new markets and products.

So what is Innovation?

It’s more than a great idea, it must contribute to a transformation in society; ultimately, adopted by users.

What followed was a series of references as to the innovation process and supporting examples, including Bill Buxton (The Long Nose of Innovation), The Digital Pin, the rise of the tablet and the Gartner Hype Cycle.

Sources of Innovation, according to Peter F. Drucker (1985), range from unexpected events, incongruities, process needs, change of industry structure, demographics, change of mood or perception and new knowledge. Interestingly, new knowledge only accounts for 20% of innovation.

Innovation in 2017

Professor Holmquist had not long returned from a visit to Silicon Valley and finished with a question...what’s the most popular startup in Silicon Valley? Silence for a few moments...then the big reveal...Cannabis. New legislation (allowing recreational adult-use) has meant an opportunity for cannabis/pot tech...creating a billion dollar cash crop.

Now over to the panel of speakers...

Chris Gibbons - Digital Collaboration & Transformation Consultant at Accenture

First of the panel to speak was Chris Gibbons, a digital collaboration and transformation consultant from Accenture. Chris discussed digital health and how it’s transforming health care, in particular issues around security, monitoring health and companionship. Uses for Alexa (asking questions about medication and a pre-sleep routine) and FitBit (the user's heartbeat may be low - have they taken their medication?) were mentioned. Chris closed with three key points:

  1. Get people round the table to discuss the issues
  2. Move from disruption to transformation
  3. Get started - prototype and learn   

Theresa Pullen - Global Tech Exec

Theresa gave a very personal insight into her time as a business and technical executive, mainly from her time working in Belgium for pharmaceutical giant Merck. Innovate from the inside and the culture of a company were discussed alongside three key points:

  1. Understand the context
  2. The appetite for change
  3. Don’t throw away the old stuff

Point three was supported with a story of a team member who was classed as ‘old school’ and potentially not a good fit for new technology. However, bringing his experience and expertise to the new technology discussion allowed for further innovation.

Ben Kaner - Head of Digital Strategy, North Tyneside Council / ENGIE

Ben explained his role as Head of Digital Strategy within a council and how technology has to deliver council services. An overview of Engie (including home performance, energy generation and global innovation) and in particular, the purpose of a council (including fair trade, keeping people healthy and creating value in people) gave further insight into his role. Some key points from Ben were:

  1. Preparing for a future society including big data and privacy issues
  2. Ask the right question to get the right answer
  3. What is the reason why somebody would want something?

Philip Miller - Architect, Ryder Architecture

Last up, Philip Miller, an Architect from Ryder Architecture. Philip discussed the role of future/smart homes, the Internet of Things and in particular the rise of BIM (Building Information Modeling). Philip challenged anyone to spot a difference between the 3D model and actual development of Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary, a project completed by Ryder Architecture. Some great content on the amount of information being collected from the project. Sensors around the hospital are measuring how efficient the building is.


The session ended with a series of Q&As. Questions asked related to the sources of innovation in the North East (great universities, big data and future legislation concerning privacy) to an aging population (a ticking time bomb as less resources for the NHS means the next 5 years are critical) and how much does digital actually affect our brains (especially the use of sat navs).

Concluding the Innovation Trends and Digital Disruption Breakout Session

Overall, a really enjoyable discussion concerning the digital landscape, from a variety of perspectives. There is certainly an eagerness for businesses to work together in order to learn. Collaboration of ideas and resources seems to be where most innovation stems from and there is certainly a ‘please come and speak to us’ call to action from those on the panel.

All images are from the VentureFest website.