Sponsor and Speaker Interview: Tom Torkar

Tom Torkar, Head of Technology & Innovation at Michelmores talks Venturefest South West 2019. Michelmores sponsors the VIP breakfast. Tom will also be speaking at the AI and Big Data panel, sponsored by Environmental Futures & Big Data Impact Lab.

Why is Venturefest SW important to the region?
So much innovative business is being conducted in the South West. Venturefest SW provides an excellent forum for those business to “shout” about their ideas to the national business community. Because the South West is a broad geographical area that doesn’t centre around one major city, Venturefest also provides the opportunity for entrepreneurs, businesses and institutions to congregate around a shared identity. The event facilitates networking, access to new opportunities and potential routes to funding.

Why are you supporting Venturefest?
We supported the first Venturefest SW event in 2016, which was a huge success – so we wanted to be part of it again for 2019. Michelmores has a long history of supporting innovative business and institutions in the South West, nationally and internationally. Venturefest is a great opportunity to collaborate with the entrepreneurs and businesses that are creating exciting new growth opportunities for the region. Personally, I am also looking forward to contributing to the panel discussion on big data and AI.

What three pieces of advice would you give to a technology innovator?
-I think the most important thing for innovators, is to have real enthusiasm and energy for your product – starting up can be tough and in the early stages innovators have to fulfil many roles, as well as sell the concept to numerous potential customers and funders.
-A long-term view is also important – it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day running of a business. However, paying attention to the long-term health of the business, such as employee training and development, recruitment, product development, marketing and capital development will be worth it. Entrepreneurs should always have an end-goal in mind to avoid the risk of losing momentum when the initial successes start coming through.
-Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help and take the opportunity to learn from others whenever you can. My colleagues and I are always happy to share experience and advice with entrepreneurs – come and find us at Venturefest!

What’s the most exciting piece of tech you have come across in the region?
It’s impossible to highlight just one! The Met Office’s supercomputer is an obvious example of ground-breaking computing capacity, here in Exeter. Disruptors such as crowd-funding innovators Crowdcube, have revolutionised how business can access funding.
Personally, what I find really exciting, is when entrepreneurs take a kernel of an idea and though sheer enthusiasm and determination, develops the idea into a successful and innovative businesses. DeGould and their vehicle scanning booths which are now being sold to ports and car manufacturers around the world – as well as Lightfoot, for the great work they are doing to help us drive more efficiently and reduce emissions, are good examples of this.

What tech do you think will have the biggest impact on the region in the future?
Our environment and how we can live more sustainably is certainly at the top of the agenda. The work that the region’s universities, businesses and initiatives such as Exeter City Futures are doing will hopefully generate the ground-breaking technology needed to tackle the very real problems posed by climate change and population increase. The South West is at the forefront of the UK’s environmental revolution, given that we face into the prevailing weather and ocean, we have the remarkable diversity of land, sea and airspace, and we host both world leading and disruptive technologies in all three environmental sectors.