BRIGHT ideas from some of the region's most go-ahead companies have been rewarded with almost £1.5m in grants.

An awards ceremony at County Durham's Beamish Hall recently brought together the cream of North-East talent in the business world.

All 29 winners have received support through the DTI Smart grant which helps individuals and small and medium-sized companies to develop their ideas commercially.

Among the winners were Durham University professors Toni Slabas and Keith Lindsay, who solved the problem of the lack of biotechnology companies in the region by founding their own. They pooled their expertise in molecular biology and protein chemistry to develop new ways of increasing crop yield.

Their company, Creative Gene Technology, is the first plant biotechnology company in the North-East.

The company has been awarded a £45,000 feasibility grant.

An 18-month project is planned and the company eventually aims to employ a staff of 40.

Another company awarded a £45,000 feasibility grant is Bond Technologies Europe, of Newton Aycliffe.

Inventor Wayne Richardson combines his twin passions of technology and flying with developing a low cost user-friendly system for locating people and items of property in an electronically hostile environment.

Other innovations to be rewarded included web-enabled Smartcard technology, a sports injury rehabilitation device, a system for charging electronic vehicles, the adaptation of the technology used in computer games to develop a new learning aid, and a new type of fishing lure.

Winners received their awards from Tony Sarginson, executive director of the Northern Business Forum in front of an invited audience from the region's business community