Business editor Julie Hayes meets some of the city’s exciting new ventures on show at Venturefest

YORK’S young science and technology businesses will be out in force at Venturefest Yorkshire tomorrow at York Racecourse. Innovations from the city are putting in a strong play for the regional science and technology expo’s two major competitions, the Investment Competition and Innovation Showcase.

In the Investment Competition, organised by the Yorkshire Association of Business Angels, five companies, including York’s Big City Guide and We Enrich, will fight to win a prize of business support worth £29,000 in pitching competitions held throughout the morning.

One of the businesses exhibiting throughout the event in the Innovation Showcase area, reserved for innovative and dynamic young companies, also stands to win a support prize worth £12,000.

Big City Guide

Peter McFarlane and Mark Starzynski have global ambitions for their smart phone app business, Big City Guide.

Peter and Mark run their own design businesses in the city, and joined forces to enter the app market.

In May 2011, they started putting together a guide to York, including 35 categories from the location of cashpoints to restaurants, hotels and police stations.

They launched it in the App Store in July, followed by a version for Android, and now they have created guides for 58 locations in the UK and 560 in the United States.

Peter said: “We have done a lot of trawling through Google and other directories, putting together databases that give us an edge over other people. If there’s nothing on there, no one will use it, so we pre-populate it with the businesses then in time once people start using it more and more, we will charge businesses for additional services, such as being able to upload a menu as a pdf, a video interview with a theatre director about a show, links to social media and events listings.

“We’re looking for some angel investment to market of the product. The idea in time is to roll it out through the English-speaking world, then western Europe and beyond,” he said.


A York directory enquiries business is using the Innovation Showcase to launch a new interactive map search tool.

Simunix, which was established in 1998 by managing director John Lewis, became the first non-telecoms company to license the UK’s national directory database and in 1999 launched free online directory inquiries service – is still the company’s main product, but Laura Lewis, marketing executive, said Venturefest would be the first official outing of new product ZoneSearch, a visual technology which can be used to extract telephone and address information using a map. The user can set a radius on a map and get all the addresses of people that live in that area, and the company has already had interest from the police, who may need to contact potential local witnesses about an incident in the area, as well as businesses targeting a local area for marketing purposes.

Law Wizard

Tom Hiskey, a former solicitor, and Rob Blake, a web developer, set up Law Wizard in 2009 to develop an online system to guide people through expensive areas of law, which don’t necessarily need a solicitor. They have developed an online wizard, initially in probate, which they are soon to launch, and hope then to expand into other areas of law. is the idea of David Patrick, a mobile technician for Mercedes at Clifton Moor, who has created a site to compare and review services in the motor trade.

David, of Selby, said the website could be used for repairs, servicing, valet or body works and will include independent garages as well as main dealers to give the consumer full choice.

Customers are encouraged through a voucher system to leave feedback and rate garages. He said: “I came up with the idea about two years ago. I was just thinking one day and I continued to think about it.” He did his research, scribbled designs in the back of a book and took the plunge, employing a web designer and recently launching the site.

He said: “I have got plenty of garages ready to go on the site as soon as it’s ready. I have started with Selby and York areas, but would like to take it nationwide. Garages will pay a monthly subscription to be on there and eventually I want to put prices on there as well.

LDT Design

PRODUCT design company, LDT Design, is on the look out for innovations at Venturefest Yorkshire this year.

LDT, based at the York Eco Business Centre, will hold its own competition while it takes part in the Innovation Showcase, an exhibition of innovative and dynamic young companies, hoping to win £12,000 worth of business support.

LDT Design is searching for the best idea to donate its design time to, to help the winning project get off the ground.

The company will also show off one of its latest designs, the CURV range of retail display advertising platforms, developed for Pocklington manufacturer 10Squared, which will be used in shopping centres in the UK and Europe. Lee Taylor, founder, said LDT is now designing a new transactional kiosk for 10Squared, as well as contracts for the professional tool market, an electronic hand wash unit for the commercial sector, and it has recently been certified to supply consultancy services to entrants of a low carbon innovation competition run by CO2Sense.


Dr Sujeewa Alwis will return to Venturefest again this year to demonstrate his technology to monitor social media. Insighlytics monitors people’s perceptions of brands and who is talking about which brands in social media and in consumer forums. Dr Alwis’ sentiment analysis technology breaks down articles to find out if it’s positive, negative, news or opinion and where it has come from, providing information to help companies plan or change their marketing strategies.

Spinning Top Films

Colin and Dee Nuttall, who run Spinning Top Films, also exhibited at Venturefest last year. Colin, a television cameraman for more than 20 years, moved from London to York five years ago to shoot corporate videos and short documentaries, such as a mini documentary “Grannies Going Global” about three knitters from York’s South Bank.

We Enrich

Maria Arinbjarnar is creating interactive computer games she hopes will one day be used in a variety of everyday applications.

During her PhD, she developed a flagship technology - an engine enabling games to take on more depth, creating full characters, which talk in a logical way and engage more deeply.

Now her business, We Enrich, based at York St John’s Phoenix Centre, is developing its first game - a Victorian murder mystery, which will be on show at Venturefest.

Maria said non-play characters are usually very shallow, always saying and doing the same thing and the story always remains the same. But she said developers had now identified that players want more story and character development. She said: “What we’re doing is a mixture between adventure and role play. You have got a character advancing through the stories, but it has a lot more story and has a lot more emphasis on what you say and choose. To do that you need very complex technology.”

Maria, who is also creating a game for Jorvik Viking Centre, which they hope to release in May ahead of the main tourist season, said ultimately the intelligent technology could be used in remote services, such as telehealth.

The Distance

Growing e-commerce business, The Distance, has recently moved into the largest office in York Science Park’s Springboard incubator, and has grown its team.

Anthony Main, mobile director of the company, which creates websites and mobile phone applications following the merger of Mobile DynamiX and Media Make, said: “We are generally aiming for a far bigger client base, and have increased the size of the team considerably. We want to increase our profile and gain acknowledgement of the company around the area and sort of work we’re doing.”

The business has attracted interest from students through an App Competition to find buddy student mobile developers and has won new business, developing an e-commerce store for Mind Candy, developer of the game Moshi Monsters.

• Venturefest Yorkshire 2012 takes place at York Racecourse on February 8 from 8.30am to 5pm.