Walter Charnizon, President, Continental Exhibitions, which produces the three TechDay shows, tells Dealerscope all about this launchpad event for entrepreneurs – and what’s in store for the next series of shows
What is the underlying premise of TechDay shows?
Walter Charnizon: TechDay is a celebration of innovation and of new products and platforms… The events [were initiated] with an eye to developing opportunities for early-stage startups to gather the tools to grow. We’re very proud of the way TechDay has been evolving, to better address that need.
We do three events: one in New York City in April, one in September in L.A., and one in London in October. Each event is one day, and has exhibitors comprised mostly of early-stage technology-based startup companies that have not begun to receive money. Some are Series-A- or Series-B-funded startups. And the show’s attendees are members of the community dedicated to helping organizations like that grow - that includes investors, institutional and some private equity resources looking to go to work for young, highly targeted growth-centric companies - early adopters who are interested in seeing what is new in the ecosystem. Often, they’re entities in innovation labs that are from corporate environments, and some are tech professionals or startups themselves, looking to see what else is being done out there in the community. Other attendees include members of the press.
In the end, it comes down to an assembly of people eager to learn about innovation and new businesses as they are emerging – as well as people who are looking to work for those companies, and invest in them, and people who are influencers within the ecosystem who want to see where the community is taking things.
In addition, we have a program called TechDay Talks. We have a dozen bite-sized presentations by members of the community ranging from the Googles and the Amazon Web Services to some startups and financial institutions talking about anything from AI developments to, in New York, people from the New York City Economic Development Corp., who talk about the future of the city and how entrepreneurs can prepare for what’s coming economically.
We present interesting, inspirational and aspirational regional sessions to help people think about what they want to do next about their careers. We also have a startup stage at the event where exhibitors can deliver brief pitches of three to four minutes to potential investors or customers. It gives them a chance to stand up and deliver a slow-moving elevator pitch, as if the elevator got stuck between floors for a few seconds.
We look at the events as a real celebration of innovation, and as a way for the community to galvanize – an opportunity to come together to re-connect socially, professionally, to build new relationships and new contacts that can propel careers and businesses forward.
In New York, for example, we work with educational institutions like Columbia Business School and Cornell and a few others – community partners that have relationships within each of the communities we work with. The event allows a way for the industry to network, to fertilize itself, to catalyze its own growth – and we look to this as a very democratized way to achieve all of this.
We work hard to keep prices very modest. Exhibitors who are truly early-stage companies have a chance to join the event typically for less than $1,000, and fundamentally, with ticketed admission, we charge attendees a low price – for less than it costs to go to a movie.
We are interested in helping the community to grow and establish itself with stronger and stronger credentials as an economic force to be reckoned with in each of the environments we participate in.
Why is New York City a favored venue for TechDay?
New York is probably the best example of an economy that has truly responded to the growing value of the technology-based economy.
For example, if the New York City elders learned anything during the last recession, it was that you can’t really rely on one type of market. New York had been a financial services city almost exclusively, at that point, and it got hurt horribly during the downturn. Now, it has become one of the top two centers for entrepreneurship in the technology community. Outside of Northern California and Silicon Valley, you’d be hard pressed to find a community more dynamic than New York. And even though it didn’t end up winning the big prize with Amazon HQ2, I think if you had asked almost anyone six months before that announcement if New York was even in the running, they would have laughed. Yet there it was, one of the two winners of that [location] sweepstakes.
If you look at the unusual intersection of access to capital, education and educated workers and to corporate headquarters that all reside in New York, it begins to make sense that this would be the place that identifies itself as the leading environment for the convergence of technology growth and entrepreneurship.
As a show, we like to think we reflect that growth. We’re getting bigger each year. We have more institutions involved with us. We’re beginning to attract international startup pavilions into the event – we had groups this past year from Japan and Brazil. And we’re excited by what we see as the developing recognition of the event as an access point to that community in New York City and to see that recognition extend beyond simply the local Tri-State area.
Are there any tweaks you’re making to the New York show for 2020 that you can speak about in general?
For the coming year, we’re looking to unveil a new educational opportunity exclusively for founders, co-founders and their C-suite teammates. Instead of being exhibitors, as they are at our show, [we’ll encourage them] to spend time in the learning seat as attendees with programming that is designed to help them run better businesses. We’ve begun to understand that there is an opportunity to help them not only offer live demonstrations of their products and services, but to help them find access to thought leadership and best practices and resources to be better businesspeople. While they’re fine technologists and entrepreneurs, they need help, very often, in scaling and figuring out how to juggle the priorities that are inherent in their world.
There are a lot of elements that go into growing a business, and we think we are going to be able to provide offerings in the next year that will help startups learn to accelerate their growth even more adroitly because of the education and relationships we are able to bring them.
How many exhibitors do you think you’ll have at the 2020 New York TechDay?
We are planning for 300 to 350. As the world becomes more concerned about the future of the economy, and there seems to be an end to the booming market coming at us, whether that’s true or not, entrepreneurs and events that serve their needs have a success story to tell. If there is a contraction in the economy, very often, it leads to more people looking to figure out how to build their own mousetrap. And we think we’re a natural landing place, under those conditions. So we’d anticipate seeing some growth there. On the other hand, if the economy continues strong, we’d anticipate seeing growth because of that.
I am confident that the show will continue to reflect the community and the ebbs and flows of the marketplace. We’re planning for about eight to 10 percent growth next year in terms of the exhibitor side. In attendees, we registered around 15,000 to 16,000 people. At some point, most shows want to grow and grow every year – but I am comfortable with that number, logistically, when it comes to producing this show as a one-day event. We want to keep it one day, because if there’s anything entrepreneurs seem to value more than money, it’s their time… W expect it to stay somewhere south of 20,000 registrants and we’re excited by that, and gratified to see the almost tribal following the show has – a loyal, dedicated community of attendees who share information with their cohorts about it. We grow organically, and community partners help us get the word out every year.
We were also really proud this year to introduce a matchmaking service – a networking tool that let attendees and exhibitors set up appointments in advance of the show. Anyone who signed into the program could identify their skills and offerings and what they were looking for. And the more information you provided, the better. Literally, the software would connect you to a person who met those needs – both saw each other’s profile and then they opted into the meetings. It was almost like speed-dating with a professional twist. We were pretty happy to see people find yet another way to navigate the event and draw an precise and accurate line between themselves and the kinds of things and people they wanted to learn more about and meet with. So we’re going to roll it out to our other events in L.A. and London later this year.
Any other innovations you’re planning to bring that you can talk about?
For many years, Shark Tank has used our New York show as their official East Coast casting call, and although they need to get a green light from their corporate management that the show will be back, we expect they’ll be back again hosting that casting call using TechDay as a foundation.
We have an advisory board we turn to to help us cultivate new ideas and will be meeting with them shortly as we put the finishing touches on our September event in L.A. and the October one in London. Before Halloween, we’re putting on our 2020 hat and planning. For me, personally, it starts with education, so we’ll send our call for presentations out soon to solicit them from within the community. We had 12 speakers last year and we try hard to present as diverse and interesting a community as we can.
What was the participation with Amazon Web Services (AWS) as partners?
They are partners with us in L.A. and London, and will be in 2020 in New York. The startup stage was sponsored by them. With their rich array of tools and services to offer early-stage startups, they also have talent focused on, and experienced with, the needs of that population. In seeing those presentations on that startup stage, they were in intimate contact with those startups, connecting them to the resources that AWS has. So they were both a host and a deep well of knowledge for them. That’s one of the hidden benefits the show offers. For example, for the people who participate in that startup stage who give a three- or four-minute presentations, we offer a training session a couple of days prior where they can do a dry run in front of a panel of mentors – and AWS was generous enough to lend some talent to that to help critique and fine-tune those presentations… To have your presentation constructively criticized in a non-threatening way is extraordinary.
We think we’re on a trajectory to help startups be the best, the quickest they can be their best. We give them access to graduate schools, executive educational resources, to training centers, to community partners, to accelerators, to corporate incubators, to investors. We give them access to all of these things without drawing a straight line between any one of them and those things.
We think of ourselves as catalysts - we’re the catalytic ingredient that will lead to the growth of the startup and to the success of the investor, or the job-seeker, or the corporate partner, or the innovation team manager.
We think we’re the environment that can galvanize the community and then step out of the way and let them do their thing.