07 June 2011

Venturefest - the Original

I have just come back from Venturerfest. Not the one on York race course that takes place in February which I have attended every year since 2005 but the Oxford original now in its 13th year. Even though it meant getting up at 05:00 this morning, driving 320 miles along congested motorways and paying sky high parking charges in Oxford town centre because the P + R was full the event was worth attending.

Venturefest - for those who have never heard of it - is an exhibition and series of workshops which are free together with an optional breakfast and dinner which are not. The breakfast starts at 07:00 and the dinner finishes not far short of midnight so it can be a very long day indeed. The idea seems to be to bring together the universities with local businesspeople and professionals. The talks follow themes called "streams" in Oxford and "tracks" in York. This was today's programme for Oxford and last February's for York. These were the exhibitors today at Oxford and the "Innovation Showcase" exhibitors at York.

So how do the two events compare? Though I hate to admit it as I am a Northerner (Mancunian by birth but having a Yorkshire mother and living in Holmfirth) the difference between Venturefest and Venturefest Yorkshire was pretty well the same as the difference between Harvey Nicks in Knightsbridge and its Briggate offshoot.

For a start the Oxford venue was so much more impressive and convenient. It takes place at the University's business school which was opened by Romano Prodi, the former president of the European Commission and Prime Minister of Italy. The lecture theatre, where the funding stream talks and pitches took place, was opened by President Nelson Mandela and bears his name. Interesting modern sculptures lined the corridors. By contrast the York event takes place at the race course centre which is a rabbit warren of a building with two sets of stairs leading to floors at different levels. Consequently, the only way to get from the upper floor off one set of stairs is to descend to the ground floor and then go up the other. About the only advantage that York race course has over Said is that you can park free of charge near the entrance and it doesn't require an hour to crawl from the Botley interchange to Worcester Street.

Then the speakers were so much more interesting. I particularly enjoyed Prof Collier's presentation on the HiPER project whose enthusiasm for his subject was infectious. He explained simply but thoroughly not shying away from simple equations in terms that even a media studies graduate or at least a classicist could understand how lasers make hydrogen fuse into helium thus releasing enormous energy. I really envy his students. Frank Salzgeber of the European Space Agency was impressive too. So, too, were the VC panel in the funding stream. Alas, because of congestion on the M1 I missed the opening talk by Prof. Andrew Hamilton, principal of Oxford University, on universities as an engine of growth to which I was particularly looking forward.

The Oxford exhibition, which was in a marquee, was smaller than the one in York but I spent a lot longer going around it. Dehns and Gill Jennings & Every were there and it was good to meet Laura Ramsay of Dehns and Peter Finnie and Karen Connolly of GJE. Also B4. the two universities, the Knowledge Transfer Network, the Oxfordshire LEP, product design consultants, developers of ingenious software and lots of other interesting folk.

Altogether a very good day out and I hope to be back next year.

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