A ‘BIONIC woman’ and a ‘Chief Failure Officer’ will be among the speakers at the centrepiece conference of a major new festival to promote and celebrate the region’s growing tech sector.

The TechNExt Festival, organised by regional tech network Dynamo and its partner Sunderland Software City, will be held throughout the north east from June 19-23 this summer.

The TechNExt Main Stage will be a series of thought-provoking conference talks from leaders in technology and related industries, held at Sunderland City Hall on Wednesday, June 21.

The day is being designed to include a range of speakers and disciplines centred on the theme; technology, the future and us. The programme line up will cover three key sub themes – innovation and humans, technology and ethics, and business, society and people: Getting the balance right.

Speakers confirmed for the Main Stage 23 conference are ‘Bionic’ Tilly Lockey; Dutch academic and author Paul Iske; computer scientist and founder of the Stemettes Ann-Marie Imafidon; ex-Microsoft executive Dave Coplin; emerging tech trailblazer Nell Watson and Mala Kumar, a global leader in tech for good.

Consett-born Tilly lost both her arms after contracting meningitis aged 15 months in 2007. The NHS initially provided Tilly with simple prosthetics, but then her mum came across Open Bionics, a company looking for a below-the-elbow amputee to trial innovative new prosthetic arms.

Tilly has used the arms, the first of their kind to be medically approved in the UK, since being chosen in 2016.

Now 19, Tilly is an entrepreneur, global ambassador for Open Bionics, a speaker and a presenter on Sky and CBBC. Tilly will speak about her life and experiences during the innovation and humans session of the Main Stage conference.

Paul Iske is founder and Chief Failure Officer at the Institute of Brilliant Failures, an organisation with the mission to highlight the importance of experimentation and failure in innovation.

Paul is also Visiting Professor of Knowledge-driven Innovation at Stellenbosch University in South Africa and Chair of the Dutch Personalised Healthcare Catalyst Foundation, whose mission is to accelerate the transition to more personalised, data-driven healthcare.

Headline sponsors for TechNExt are Digital Catapult, Newcastle Strategic Solutions, Opencast and Sage.

Manila McLean, Chief Information Officer at Newcastle Strategic Solutions, said: “We are really excited to be a headline sponsor of the TechNExt festival. As one of the most established and successful FinTechs in the North East, we have been a major employer of tech and digital talent for almost 20 years. The festival is an opportunity to showcase the fantastic talent we know exists in the region, and bring the community together to look to the future and discuss how we can continue to develop and grow the already thriving tech sector.”

Among the other high-profile speakers Ann-Marie Imafidon was one of the youngest people to receive a Computer Science Masters from Oxford University at just 20 years old.  After obtaining her master’s degree, Ann-Marie worked for many companies, including Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank.

In 2013 she founded and became CEO of Stemettes, a social enterprise promoting women in STEM careers.

Dave Coplin is a former Chief Envisioning Officer for Microsoft UK and is often sought to provide advice and guidance to UK government on policy issues such as Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. His talk is entitled The Rise of the Humans.

Nell Watson will talk about the ethics of tech, and is an expert in emerging technologies such as machine vision and artificial intelligence (AI). She dedicates her work to protecting human rights and infusing ethics and safety into technologies

Mala Kumar is GitHub’s Director of Tech for Social Good, having previously worked for a decade in the United Nations and other international development organisations, where she designed and built tech tools that addressed some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Jamie Hardesty, Head of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement at Sunderland Software City, will host the conference, and said: “It’s with great excitement that we reveal our speakers for TechNExt. The festival will bring together a range of extraordinary innovators, sharing insights and inspiring stories that will be a real treat for our audience.

“Technology is for everyone. Its potential to transform the prosperity of our region is unmatched. It’ll be a privilege to host speakers hailing from here in the North East to right across the world; I’d encourage anyone interested in tech or innovation to join us for what’s going to be a special day!”

Tickets for the TechNExt Main Stage conference cost £80 + VAT. Dynamo North East members will get a 20 per cent discount, and tickets can be booked at

Dynamo North East is made up of tech organisations, large corporate employers in the region, consultants, technology hubs, education providers, local government and suppliers to the industry. Dynamo relies on the support of the region’s tech organisations to help achieve regional growth in the sector, promote the region externally, develop skills and education, and support regional research and development.

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