How to Take Advantage of Major Tech Conferences as an Early-Stage Startup

August 24, 2015

6:00 pm

When you are an early stage startup, affordable attention can be hard to come by! Elite tech conferences, such as SXSW, Dublin Web, NYC Tech, and others represent an often underutilized opportunity to draw major attention to your company – without a major price tag. Here are some key tips for how to take advantage of major tech conferences as an early stage startups:

Look for a “Startup Village”

Major conferences, including South by Southwest (SXSW) and International CES, to name just two of many, have developed specific areas for showcasing startups in recent years. Getting your startup a kiosk in these spots is useful for two reasons: first, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a booth at the main event (for example, a booth at International CES for startups is $1000+ while a booth in the main area can go for well over $10,000) and, second, there is important self-curation. Most of the people who find their way to the startup area searched for it – meaning they are usually big company mid-level execs or angel investors/venture capitalists looking for exposure to breakthrough technologies.

Find Discounts, Promotion Codes, and Early-Birds

The sticker price for a conference shouldn’t be what you have to pay! The low hanging fruit is registering early: most early-bird slots are 30-50% less off the bat. Also, run through your rolodex: that guy you met at some shared workspace happy hour last year could be an organizer or helper for a conference (most have many) and they can often hook you up with a promotion code for attendee discounts. One way this is useful: if you buy a booth that comes with only a couple passes – for those manning the booth – this can help you add another person to roam the rest of the conference for business development opportunities on the cheap.

Look for Awards, Pitch Competitions, and Speaker Slots to Apply for:

At the end of the day, it’s all about standing out from the crowd. One great way to do that is to pitch in one of the startup competitions or win an award. Most of the major conferences have one or both: for example, South by Southwest has both its own pitch competition and the SXSW awards – plus the Hatch competition for good measure! And, if you are an experienced entrepreneur and/or a known expert in your field, utilizing that to get a speaking gig will usually net you a paid conference ticket – and sometimes even room and board for yourself and a colleague.


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I am an entrepreneur, angel investor, and early-stage VC living and working in New York City.

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