Martin Vander Weyer

All life is here

2020 London and South East region finalists

All life is here
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Our London & South East finalists for The Spectator’s Economic Innovator of the Year Awards 2020, sponsored by Julius Baer, really did cover the span of human life from conception to cremation – and many of the challenges of the 21st century in between.

This region has more finalists (12) than our other regions simply because it attracts more entries – around 90 out of a total across the country of almost 150. In previous years we have brought them together to talk to our regional guest judges around Julius Baer’s elegant boardroom table in the City of London. This year for obvious reasons we had to resort to a marathon Zoom session instead, requiring extra stamina on the part of the judges but allowing each entrant a little more time, and our undivided attention, for their pitch.

Joining me on the judging panel were Priya Lakhani OBE, founder of last year’s overall winner Century Tech; Charles Watson, an entrepreneur in financial communications and advertising who’s now involved in venture capital and environmental projects; and Matthew Garnham, an executive director of Julius Baer. We loved hearing from all the finalists – the standard really was high, as was the level of positivity in addressing the operational obstacles (and in some cases the special opportunities) of the pandemic.

My opening gambit refers to Create Fertility, a mother-and-son venture that offers milder, more accessible and lower-cost IVF treatments, serving NHS as well as private patients; and to Farewill, which provides ‘simpler, faster and fairer’ death services, including wills, cremation and probate. Both are fast-growing and disruptive innovators in their sectors, as are several of the other finalists – and I can’t really do better, by way of summary, than to paraphrase what Priya Lakhani says on our podcast about how uplifting it was to hear these entrepreneurs talking so passionately about their businesses, because the world really will be a better place if they all achieve the success they’re striving for…

Imagine a world (Priya began) in which IVF is much easier to obtain, and so is will-writing and cremation. In which pensions are easier for savers to consolidate through PensionBee, and food banks serve more people more efficiently because they’re supplied with the right products – which is what Bankuet does. In which highly educated refugees find good employment offering online language teaching (Chatterbox) and corporate executives expand their horizons by undertaking valuable projects for charities (Ethical Angel).

And won’t it be good if the NHS can source staff to fill shifts at short notice through the Patchwork Health app that cuts out the cost and delay of using agencies – and can also source elegant screens from KwickScreen that impede virus spread in hospitals far more efficiently than traditional curtains between beds.

How much better will it be for small businesses if they can secure instant payment for invoices to larger corporate buyers through Previse – and if buyers and sellers in the world of fine art can obtain quick, reliable quotes for shipment of artworks from Convelio. Finally, wouldn’t the backlogged justice system work much better if it used the paperless legal tech offered by Opus 2, and wouldn’t it be great if vacant high street retail sites were given new digital life by Sook Spaces.

That’s quite a gallop through the core activities of our 12 regional finalists. I encourage readers to take a look at the company websites for more detail. But I hope I’ve given you a sense – at a time when there’s so much bad news and pessimism around us – of just how uplifting it is for all of us at The Spectator and Julius Baer to engage with so many remarkable entrants for our Economic Innovator Awards 2020.