Interview: John Francis from Venturefest Wales 2015

With innovation and enterprise conference Venturefest Wales set to take place tomorrow in Cardiff’s SWALEC stadium, we talk to its organiser John Francis about what it’s all about.

TD: Can you tell us a little more about yourself?

JF: I’m a fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and entered the university sector in 2003 after a career in the automotive and electronic instrumentation sectors. Having had experience in industrial research, I set up several companies that are corporate and HE spin-outs, including my own instrumentation company.

At the University of South Wales, I’m leading the drive to engage with alumni and to enable businesses locally and internationally to access the outstanding talent, applied research, knowledge, skills and facilities within the university and to facilitate access to funding for research and innovation. I’m a keen supporter of creating an environment in the community where high-growth businesses can prosper and where innovation and enterprise can thrive.

Most recently, I’m the chair of Venturefest Wales – a major annual event helping to contribute to the ecosystem for investors and high growth businesses in the country.

TD: What sort of things are planned for the event?

JF: Venturefest Wales aims to inspire people to grow their businesses by putting entrepreneurs face-to-face with influential but down-to-earth speakers who tell it as it is – warts and all!

We want to highlight the benefits of collaboration in speeding up innovation and getting new businesses off the ground. Delegates will have the opportunity to learn something that they can put into practical application straight away and will be able to network with people who they could realistically follow-up with the very next day and take positive steps to grow a business together.

TD: What do you hope it achieves?

JF: It’s my hope that the delegates go home and act tomorrow on what they have learnt. I hope that the people our delegates meet and the lessons they learn will go on to have a real impact on their business.

Our visitors might gain new customers, meet a potential business mentor, secure an investment for their business or take away a great idea for a collaboration product improvement.

TD: What kind of support has it received?

JF: Innovate UK and the Welsh Government have given foundation financial support to Venturefest Wales, along with the universities, UDL and NatWest. The support the event receives from entrepreneurs and investors is fantastic. Suggestions and feedback from our speakers and delegates help to shape the event and rightly so – after all, it’s designed for them.

TD: How have you found organising it?

JF: Great fun, and challenging! The most important thing to me is that we meet delegates’ expectations – making sure that the time they spend at the event is really worthwhile.

TD: Why do you think it’s important to bring together innovators, investors and entrepreneurs?

Because they’re the key people who contribute to a growth economy. It’s vital that these people are given the opportunity to meet, network and connect in a much better way. Venturefest Wales is aiming to reduce the ‘six degrees of separation’ by putting all of these professionals in one space.

TD: How important are they to the Welsh economy?

JF: Innovators, investors and entrepreneurs are so important – for example, did you know that 6 per cent of entrepreneurs create 50 per cent of the jobs in Wales? That’s according to NESTA.

TD: How does the Venturefest Wales support them?

JF: We create an opportunity for innovators, investors and entrepreneurs to immerse themselves in a day where everyone comes together with collaboration in mind.

This year, we’re introducing a ‘Network Navigators’ initiative  – where we have a team of vibrant, confident business people who already have great connections helping introduce delegates to one another. This should enable our visitors to make those vital and meaningful connections happen must more quickly.

TD: How do you think the event can support Wales’s growing tech industry?

JF: Venturefest Wales supports the tech industry by bringing together key industry players and exciting up-and-comers under one roof – in one day. I believe that the key to innovation is that every sector has the potential to make a difference to every other sector. It’s the cross fertilisation that a non-sector specific event like Venturefest can really help to make magic happen.

TD: What are the plans for next year?

JF: To do it again! And as ever to build on the success of this year, creating even more connections between our delegates that lead to business growth in Wales.