Game-changing innovations, ranging from an AI-powered interactive fashion shopping experience to sustainable bespoke wooden bicycles, were just some of the inspirational products and services on show at this year’s #VFS22 Festival of Innovation.

Around 1000 visitors attended the region’s biggest innovation showcase at the Ageas Bowl, Southampton, on 17th November – the sixth event organised by Venturefest South.

Innovators, start-ups and small businesses were given a valuable platform at this year’s event, where over £1billion of opportunities were on offer from VFS partners through support, funding and investment.

VFS is a partnership-led, year-round programme where partners, exhibitors and sponsors directly fund the promotion of and the exhibition space for all kinds of innovators and entrepreneurs from across the South.

This year, 47 innovators received funded places; over 50 innovators entered the £10k Battle of the Pitches competition and 12 entered the Open Mic events. The programme also engages with networks and initiatives, including Innovate UK KTN, Women in Innovation, Young Innovators, The Indian Business Group, Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, Business South, Creative Network South, and more.

In the spotlight were new business innovators who took to the stage for the legendary Battle of the Pitches competition, which carried a top prize of £10,000 from headline sponsor CATAX.

Five of the South’s top innovators presented their creative proposals live to a judging panel, with Gil Satchell from powerQuad scooping the prestigious title and funding to help his eco-friendly battery-powered generator business to grow.

Gil said: “I’m thrilled that our innovative powerQuad technology has won this fantastic prize from CATAX at the brilliant #VFS22.

“powerQuad is a smart green battery alternative to diesel fuelled generators, which provides cheaper renewable energy and helps reduce CO2 emissions significantly. We will invest the prize funding to help not only our business to grow, but to support the community and our eco-system.”

The other finalists in the Battle of the Pitches were Everessence, KCC packaging; Labl.It and Portsmouth Distillery Co.

Paul Foley, Director at innovation funding specialist Catax, which specialises in R&D tax credit claims for businesses of all sizes, said: 

“It was a tough fought battle but we were thrilled to award the £10k prize to Gil and his team. Helping business uncover innovation funding is what we do every day and it was a pleasure to be involved again at VFS.”

The VFS innovator awards celebrate the brightest and best entrepreneurs from across the region. The highly-prized awards went to:

  • Innovator of the Year: – Sean Larsen, Kyle Wilks and Rhys Wilks.
  • Early Stage Innovator: Journally – Laura Liddell and Jessica Jobson
  • Sustainable Innovation Leader: Brand Conscience Ltd -Carrie Lomas – Founder, Aimee Dobson – Head of Research and Education, Sarah Bennett – Head of Design.
  • Battle of the Pitches: PowerQuad – Gil Satchell
  • Open Mic: One Hive – 17-year-old duo Charlie Gray and Ben O’Nion

Ed Gould, #VFS22 Creative Director at Carswell Gould and a founding partner of VFS, said: “Now, more than ever, the type of entrepreneurial and creative innovation we’ve seen at this year’s VFS22 is vital to the resilience and success of the UK.

“The collaboration between large-scale business, education and start-ups shows a willingness to pull together to make great things happen. Once again, I’ve been inspired by the delegates, partners and innovators at this year’s event who are bold and ambitious in supporting our region’s flourishing eco-system.”

Headline partner Dstl’s Head of Platform Systems Matt Chinn added: “There was really positive energy at the event and we had great feedback from everyone we met. It was a really uplifting and productive day making new connections. Collaboration is central to what Dstl does, so this event, which brings together businesses from all sectors to work in partnership, is very important to us.”

#VFS22 Board member Sarah Duckering, Director of Research and Innovation Services at University of Portsmouth said: “It is fantastic to see so much innovation happening in the region and that all the innovators are passionate about what they do.

“VFS22 is really instrumental in supporting the burgeoning local innovation and supports the region’s future prosperity, which is so important during this current economic climate.”

Independent business support was available from the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Growth Hub Team, connecting local entrepreneurs, start-up and scale-up businesses with the most relevant and useful support, advice and signposting.

The South’s leading business experts and entrepreneurs took part in the Innovation Talks and Workshop Zone which covered a range of topics, including: the life of an innovator; skills and entrepreneurship; maritime; digital innovation and funding opportunities.

Speakers included Jayne Sime, Senior Enterprise and Skills Executive in the Growth Hub team at the Solent LEP; Sue Elliott, Senior Manager, UK Network, South East, British Business Bank and representatives from The FSE Group, Dstl, Innovate UK KTN, and many more.

The Maritime UK Solent innovation panel, made up of Innovate UK, University of Portsmouth and the Institute of Technology, discussed the support available in maritime sector. Solent Freeport Chair Brian Johnson also gave an update on the Solent Freeport.

#VFS22 Board member James Ford, Head of Enterprise and Skills at Solent Local Enterprise Partnership, said:Venturefest is always a fantastic showcase for some of the brilliant business ideas in the Solent region. The Solent LEP is committed to supporting local businesses to give them the best possible chance of future success.”

Tony Mrozicki, Head of Innovation Labs at BAE Systems, a #VFS22 Headline Partner, said: “Venturefest South provides BAE Systems with a valuable interface to openly engage with SMEs in the local area. We are increasingly looking to partner with local SMEs to provide support in moving from concept to commercialisation.”

Leader of Southampton City Council Satvir Kaur was pleased to see a great turnout at the event. She said: “Southampton is a hub of innovation – forward-facing and future-ready.

“It’s important that we grasp future growth areas and take advantage of opportunities they can bring for our city and region, which makes events like these so important, that enable this to happen.

“The council is supporting LoCase (Low Carbon Across the South and East) programme, which is offering up to £10,000 in grant funding, alongside promoting our new Business Hub which offers free resources and support to SMEs at this year’s VFS.”