Knowledge Zone

The Grant Thornton Knowledge Zone is the place to listen, learn, engage, share and access the latest innovative thoughts from leading innovators, investors and support organisations.

Three rooms packed with insight...

These forward-thinking professionals will host insightful talks, giving valuable knowledge and advice, helping attendees become part of the south’s innovation success story.

Talk focusses include ‘being fit for investment’ and ‘access funding and support’, as well as real-life success stories and even advice for investors on ‘how to conduct portfolios top to perform’.

Check out some of the inspiring talks and speaker sessions from last year’s event here on VFSTV.

Watch this space for a full series of speakers and topics. If you are interested in speaking at the event, please get in touch.

Zone sponsor

Knowledge Zone activity

Innovation & Business Support

Solent LEP

Women in Digital Enterprise (WiDE) taster

University of Winchester

One strand of the University of Winchester Business School’s activity focuses on women entrepreneurs and increasing women’s business growth through Digital Degree Apprenticeships. This session will provide a taster session of the Business School’s Women in Digital Enterprise Programme.

IR35 and payroll outsourcing

Grant Thornton

Employment tax manager, Jeremy Howson, with tax manager, Karen Gould, will look at the changes that are proposed in respect of extending the IR35 legislation to the private sector and how they may impact all businesses including start-ups.

Robots in the workplace today

Ben Scott-Robinson, The Small Robot Company

Ben Scott-Robinson is a digital innovator of 20 years standing. Right now he is the founder of The Small Robot Company, a startup crafting three small robots, and nurturing their dream to save the world.

He is also the tutor on mobile and social strategy for Google’s Squared Online digital innovator course, running live remote classes for up to 120 people. As well as this, he has founded two agencies, two consultancies, an app start-up and a phone for blind people.

At VFS18, Ben will be talking about:

Robots – From Slaves to Overlords to Friends…?

Robots were conceived by the Czech writer Karel Capek in the book “Rossum’s Universal Robots”. The word Robot itself is Czech for Slaves, and reflected the radical modernisation of post WW1 Europe. Later, after WW2, the fictional robots of McCarthyist America become the ‘Other’ – representing the inhumanity of Communism and the Soviet Union.

But now, as robots become more real, the relationship has become more fragmented. Are they our workplace friends, designed to do the jobs we hate, our oppressors, stealing our chance of happiness, or subtle forms of control developed by Big Tech to monitor our every move for financial gain?

Drones and their use in emergency scenarios

Gemma Alcock, Skybound Rescuers

Gemma Alcock is an award-winning innovator and drone designer, who has recently been recognised within the top 0.01% of female entrepreneurs in a UK Government innovation competition.

She has worked within the search and rescue (SAR) sector for over 4 years, in both professional beach rescue roles for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and volunteer flood response roles. Her passion for both the drone and SAR industries spurred on and inspired her to found SkyBound Rescuer, an aerial technology company for the Emergency Services.

At VFS18, Gemma will showcase a presentation that includes what has been achieved so far by drones in emergency response, how they are currently being used and to what effect, and what the future holds for drone lifesaving.

Helping innovative growing businesses obtain cash through EIS investment and valuable tax credits through R&D tax relief

Paul Duckworth and Rebecca Combes, Smith & Williamson

Presenters, Rebecca and Paul, will give insightful advice on helping companies obtain funding through tax efficient equity investment and through maximising claims for research & development tax relief.

This presentation will benefit any company involved in development work of new products. Smith & Williamson support many technology businesses in the south, helping them clear a path through the financial forest to obtain tax efficient funding on equity investments and entitlement to tax reliefs for developing intellectual property. Even where companies are already making a claim to R&D tax relief, Smith & Williamson find there are certain areas where they may not have claimed their full entitlement.

VAT for tech start ups

Joe Francis, Grant Thornton 

Senior VAT manager, Joe Francis, will be sharing his knowledge on VAT for tech startups. The workshop will explore why and when you should register for VAT, provide an overview of your VAT compliance requirements following registration and how to deal with some specific business transactions. You will also be taken through some recent and oncoming changes to VAT that may affect your business. It’s also an opportunity for Grant Thornton to provide some clarity of the current VAT regime including the benefits that can be obtained from being VAT registered.

Blockchain technology in business

Duncan Cook, 3 Sided Cube 

As CEO of 3 SIDED CUBE, Duncan inspires the global digital agency to ‘Build Tech For Good’. A leader inspired by impact he has pushed for the team to create award-winning life-saving apps for clients including RSPB, RNLI, and Mind.

His vision to change the way people donate blood saw The American Red Cross revolutionise the donation process into a digital system that has created over $70million of revenue. Recognised for his drive to improve global disaster preparedness he was invited to The White House to present the agency’s work on the world’s largest alerting app which saves millions of lives in areas affected by tornados, earthquakes and other natural disasters every day.

Duncan will be sharing his insights on blockchain technology in businesses at VFS18.

Expanding your business overseas

Nick Charles & Stuart Stoter, Department for International Trade South East

UK Export Finance is a government department that helps exporters by providing insurance to exporters and guarantees to banks to share the risks of providing export finance. UKEF provides free support and information to UK companies through a regional network of 24 Export Finance Advisers. In this seminar, Nick Charles will talk about the opportunities for UK companies overseas and how DIT can help businesses wishing to expand internationally. Stuart Stoter will cover the services of UK Export Finance (UKEF) and how we can help exporters to identify, quantify, manage and minimise the financial risks of exporting.  This includes help with insurance and facilitating guarantees to banks.

Artificial Intelligence

Alex Hill, Senseye

The importance of leadership in a tech business

James Hampton, Colour Works 

Smart Cities

Chris Cooper, KnowNow

Chris Cooper is CTO of KnowNow Information, a digital innovation company based in Portsmouth. As well as innovating new digital products, Chris helps places in the UK and beyond become smarter.  

At VFS18, Chris will discuss smart cities – are we there yet?

Chris will argue that smart cities have not happened. Yet. The most successful smarter places will be those that put people first.  How this happens Chris will tell via stories from projects he is involved in as well as others from around the world.    

Making Global Sustainable Development Goals – local business

Carole Parkes, Professor of Responsible Management, University of Winchester Business School

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – also known as the ‘Global Goals’ were adopted by the UK and the other 192 member states of the United Nations in January 2016.

They call for decent work and economic growth, innovation and affordable energy, as well as fighting poverty, hunger and inequality and taking action on climate change and protecting the planet.

Carol Parkes from the University of Winchester’s Business School will cover what the role of local and global businesses and communities is in contributing to achieving these goals.

How to create a marketing strategy on a page

Lou Williams, Grant Thornton 

Business growth services manager, Lou Williams, will include a step-by-step process working through the actions you need to create a marketing plan to drive your business growth.

What the growth hub can offer businesses


The Growth Hub is aimed at businesses looking to succeed in the Enterprise M3 area.  It’s an expert advice centre and resource network which offers a free, personal service for start ups, growth an innovation. At VFS18, the Growth Hub will be holding a Q&A session with:

  • Roya Croudace – Growth Hub Director
  • Michael O’Dwyer – Growth Hub Champion
  • James Edwards – Senior Fund Manager, The FSE Group, Blackwater, Camberley
  • Andy Taylor – Dolphin Networks
  • Facilitator – Linda Cheung, EM3 LEP Board member & Co-owner, Connectegrity

Dynamic Capabilities

Lee Spicer, Distinct Strategy 

Get growth ready workshop

Lou Williams, Grant Thornton

Im this workshop, business growth services manager, Lou Williams, will show participants how to create a strategic plan for business growth.

Cyber security

Neil Sperring, Xiria Managed Services

Neil Sperring heads Xiria Ltd, an independent company specialising in cyber and information security, embedded systems and managed IT services. Neil is a recognised specialist on infrastructure technologies and will be presenting the increasing need for improved levels of cyber, infrastructure and information security within business at VFS18.

From Innovation to Commercialisation what, when, how and who… Q&A

Adrian Brown Nexus IE, The Innomech Group 

Overview of the funding landscape

Martin Carruthers

Social media to grow your business

Linda Cheung, EM3 LEP Board member & Co-owner, Connectegrity

Social networks now exceed 2.5 billion users. Over 70% of internet users use social media. These figures are expected to grow. Yet less than 10% of CEOs are endorsed for social media on LinkedIn. If there’s a communication channel where customers and competitors, employees and investors, partners and stakeholders are spending their time, shouldn’t more leaders have this critical skill? Social media is constantly changing and evolving. What worked as little as six months ago may not be effective now. Join this session to find out what should now be top of your prioritisation list.


The #VFS18 schedule is now live! Head over to see all timing details and get a taste of what to expect this year.