Martin Vander Weyer Martin Vander Weyer

A booster shot of optimism

Stormy weather, stormy politics, a flatlining economy — but in a gala gathering of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists there’s always optimism. Our Spectator Economic Innovator of the Year Awards dinner sponsored by Investec at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel on 9 November really was a booster shot against autumn blues: a glittering crowd, a buzz that could have charged a fleet of Teslas, and a spectacular venue in the great 19th-century railway terminus that was itself an icon of British innovation in its day.

These awards, now in their sixth year, salute high-growth, entrepreneur-led businesses from across the UK. A record 247 entrants for 2023 represented the widest possible range of sectors and technologies, with trends towards artificial intelligence and environmental sustainability.

Our panels of judges convened in London, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh to meet a total of 43 regional finalists, invited to pitch across convivial lunch tables. The judges applied their experience as business founders and investors in choosing
winners that represent significant innovation and have the potential to make international impact.

Recognising that we’re looking at businesses in very different stages of development, we introduced an innovation of our own this year by dividing regional finalists into categories by size, breakthrough (less than £3 million in annual revenues) and scale-up (£3 million or more). Our most testing challenge was to pick two final names: an overall winner and the recipient of the Award for Excellence in Sustainability.

In the latter category among many worthy entrants was one which blew us away: Graphene Innovations Manchester, represented by Dr Vivek Konchery, uses the miracle material graphene — invented in Manchester — to make concrete for the construction industry without cement (which accounts for 8 per cent of global carbon emissions) and with minimal use of water.

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