Meet the Rising Stars semi-finalists: the North East’s top three startups

Esme Caulfield, December 17, 2018 4 min read

In this series, we’ll find out more about the companies that have made it through to the Semi-Final of Tech Nation’s Rising Stars competition, and where they’ve come from. Next up it’s the North East.

The nurturing North East

In the Tech Nation Report 2018, tech workers based in the North East voted the region’s helpful tech community as its ecosystem’s greatest strength.

Bubbling with support networks like Digital Union, the North East’s largest collective of creative digital businesses, and Dynamo, a volunteer-led group intent on boosting the region’s IT economy, persistent efforts are being made to unite, showcase and strengthen this wonderfully diverse and spirited cluster.

Further enabling the growth of the technology sector, Sunderland Software City and Teesside-based DigitalCity ensure that support extends to all corners of the region. Meanwhile, the work of the newly-created Newcastle Tech Trust is empowering tech startups to achieve their ambitions.

With Gateshead’s PROTO, the emerging technology centre, and the National Innovation Centres for Ageing and Data now open, coupled with funding availability thanks to Jeremie2, it’s as an exciting time as ever to be involved in the North East’s tech scene – so it’s no wonder our Newcastle-based semi-finalists call the region home.

Equiwatt: Connecting homes digitally for saving energy at peak times

Award-winning cleantech startup Equiwatt was founded in November 2015 with the aim of harnessing community power to reward households for saving energy. The company’s intelligent energy management platform allows companies to pay households for reducing their usage during peak times – when the grid is under stress and energy is most expensive.

Equiwatt’s platform works by managing participating households’ energy consumption through smart technology, accessed via a website or mobile app, which automatically controls the energy usage of connected appliances. People are rewarded for reducing consumption through the platform with vouchers, product discounts or cash/credit, helping them to earn money and save on their energy bills.

With multiple accelerator programmes – including Climate-KIC in Edinburgh, and Newcastle’s TUS Forge IoT and Entrepreneurial Spark – and a PhD partnership with Newcastle University under its belt, Equiwatt has had a successful start. But the work doesn’t stop there. Following a launch to 1,000 households in October 2019, the company has plans to scale up rapidly to 300,000 homes by 2023.

To find out more, follow them on Twitter – @equiwattuk.

Hawkr: IoT digital signage and image recognition using artificial intelligence and deep learning

Founded in October 2015, software specialist Hawkr is dedicated to providing easy-to-use technologies in the digital advertising sector. The company’s IoT digital signage software gives clients access to sophisticated, scalable and commercially viable digital signage and ‘out of home’ advertising solutions. Through cutting-edge technology, clients can manage their digital advertising easily and remotely through a fully flexible web-based platform, which can be built on and adapted based on their needs.

Building on this, Hawkr has also developed image recognition technology called Hawkr InSight, using deep learning and AI. The software, which is GDPR-compliant, collects and processes audience data, including demographics and people count, using a connected camera.

With big ambitions and a wealth of technical expertise, Hawkr’s vision is to help accelerate the use of IoT in the mass market through digital communications, and encourage the use of image recognition technology to benefit consumers and the general public – all while keeping security around personal data and compliance in check with GDPR and ICO regulations.

Kani: Fintech reporting and reconciliation

Fintech business Kani was born when founders identified a problem in the payment sector – there was no quality way to reconcile the movement of funds. When a company’s dealing with millions of pounds on a daily basis, it needs to be confident in any value it produces, as does the company it’s reconciling with.

Kani’s reporting and reconciliation tool is designed to be used by companies within the financial space to accurately reconcile and report all monetary values moved and transferred. It works by receiving data directly from payment processors, so client setup is minimal and reports can be generated in a matter of minutes. This way, all the pressure and worry is alleviated because the tool makes sure the values returned are accurate, and it removes any ambiguity too, as it can be used by all involved parties.

While the company’s current focus is on reporting and reconciliation, there are big plans for the future. Kani wants to support its clients with the end goal of being a ‘bank in a box’ – where it can provide any service a payment company requires.

To find out more, follow them on Twitter – @KaniPayments.


The Rising Stars Semi-Final will take place on 16–17 January 2019 at Barclays Eagle Labs in Manchester, where the semi-finalists will receive pitch training before presenting to our expert judging panel. Only 20 of these companies will make it through to the Grand Final at London’s Rich Mix on 5 March 2019.

Stay updated on the Rising Stars competition by signing up to our newsletter below, or following @TechNation on Twitter.

We’d like to thank our Rising Stars sponsors, Microsoft, Bing, BDO Drive and TLT LLP.

North East, Rising Stars, Early Stage