Our first regional finalists lunch took place in Leeds, at the subterranean Gaucho restaurant, whose black-and-silver decor contributed to a TV-studio ambience that made our North East finalists a bit nervous at first. But the mood relaxed thanks to the geniality of our guest judges — distinguished Yorkshire businessman Gordon Black and (representing the ‘true North East’) Caroline Theobald who chairs the advisory board of Newcastle Business School at Northumbria University.
Caroline was quick to observe that all four of this year’s finalists happened to be from Yorkshire, having been picked ahead of several very interesting (but in some cases, too early-stage) entries from her own part of the country. She also noted that all four representatives happened to be men — but I made the point that a particular objective of this year’s Awards is to celebrate female entrepreneurs, so I’m sure we’ll be meeting plenty as our tour continues.
We heard four exemplary presentations, sparking wide conversation and even a promise to explore possible collaboration — the kind of chemistry we hope our Disruptor Awards might generate. First to talk was Paul Brook of Conductive Transfers in Barnsley, which has turned the old technology of printing transfers on to T-shirts into a new technology of printing electrical circuitry on to fabric in a way that survives stretching and multiple washing. Applications range from automotive — a lighter, more flexible heated seat — to healthcare: we saw a sample pair of shorts which, by carrying electrical impulses that stimulate pelvic floor muscles, offer a potential solution to urinary incontinence problems afflicting millions.
Next, Ilke Homes from Knaresborough, represented by Giles Carter. Ilke produces modular and prefabricated homes which can be manufactured in a week and assembled on a prepared site in a day, potentially revolutionising the UK sluggish housebuilding industry and providing answers to the current chronic housing shortage. Having created 350 jobs and built their first 100 homes last year, Ilke aims to be building 3,000 a year within three years.
Also, in the property sector is Kinrise, a commercial landlord with a social conscience and an ambition to make positive impacts in Britain’s moribund town centres. Founding partner George Haddo explained that Kinrise buys and refurbishes historic office buildings — so far in Leeds and Manchester but coming soon to London, Birmingham and Bristol — and fills them with a mix of commercial tenants, rent-free social enterprises and artists. It creates communities within buildings, based on a new model of long-term landlord-tenant relationships.
Finally, The Floow, based in Sheffield and represented by Dr Sam Chapman, introduced us to the vocabulary of ‘telematics’ and ‘insuretech’. The Floow takes volumes of data on driver behaviour (collected via phone apps or in-car black boxes) and analyses it on behalf of insurers to provide vastly more accurate risk patterns than the old-fashioned method of postcode segmentation — and that means fairer premiums for drivers. It can also generate rewards for good driving that actually help make roads safer.
Four fascinating businesses, presented with passion and clarity. We’re off to a great start — and we’ll be in the capital next, meeting 12 chosen finalists picked from a huge number of entrants for London and the South. Watch this space.