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The IMEX startup competition clearly needs a bigger forum, not to promote the event tech companies, but to showcase to more planners the potential hybrid event user experience of the future.

— Greg Oates

The event technology arena is a bit of a Wild West show these days as more event planners are seeing more value in the booming array of new technology products and services.

Demand is clearly growing for digital tools that improve productivity for event planners and participants, but the real world supply for mature, fully executional event technology is lagging. To date, event tech has promised a lot and delivered little, especially because so many large venues are unable to keep up with even basic Wi-Fi capacity required for many next generation cloud-based platforms.

Event app technology, which requires minimal bandwidth, is one bright spot. Conference attendees can easily research sessions, manage their schedules, and connect with other attendees in real time and on demand. It’s hard to believe that this was such a challenge to integrate into meetings less than two years ago.

Since then, adoption rates for event apps have skyrocketed. In one recent case study provided by EventMobi, the 2015 conference for the Atlanta Chapter of the Society of Human Resource Management saw a 9% jump in attendance and a 115% rise in event app usage.

Beyond that, there’s still a lack of full scale awareness among planners and attendees about the value proposition, cost, and integration of new event tech.

The IMEX Group is trying to change that at its two annual meetings industry trade shows in American and Europe. The exhibition company launched the #IMEXpitch startup competition at IMEX America 2014, designed to build excitement and awareness around the evolution of event tech.

The competition brings together 10 of the most promising startups together, all in various stages of development, to deliver 5-minute pitches about their products and the methodology behind their conceptualization.

The next #IMEXpitch takes places at IMEX Frankfurt in April.

“It’s an opportunity for startups to meet with a wider range of planners, potential real world clients, and users for many of the products,” says Miguel Neves, senior online community manager for IMEX Group, and one of the event judges. “It’s also a great opportunity for competitors to benchmark their pitches and products against other startups and more established exhibitors.”

There needs to be a lot more of this, and it needs a bigger stage.

#IMEXpitch is always standing room capacity at the three events to date, so IMEX should give these guys one hour before or after a signature keynote in the general session ballroom. That should then be followed up with supplementary online content and dedicated videos of each pitch to create mini educational sessions for a broader audience.

“Shows like IMEX have been instrumental in growing the awareness of event technology and giving startups a truly global opportunity to showcase innovation,” says Julius Solaris, founder of the popular Event Manager Blog, and another #IMEXpitch judge. “What just a few years ago was received by the industry with skepticism is now a modern requirement for events, venues and destinations.”

Loopd Wearable & App

San Francisco-based Loopd won the startup competition at IMEX America last October, after launching at South by Southwest in Austin in the spring. Before IMEX, Loopd had raised $2.6 million from venture capital and angel investors, including Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.

Attached to the end of a lanyard, the small Loopd wearable helps people share information when the devices are within close proximity of each other, or touched together, depending on the preference of the planner. It uses low energy Bluetooth technology so it’s not dependent on Wi-Fi, which factored heavily into the judges’ final decision.

Post-event, attendees can download a history of all the people they met and booths they visited into different database platforms, including Salesforce.

The integrated Loopd app acts as a full service standalone event app. The attendee profile information stored in the platform guides attendees to like-minded people with similar profiles based on any number of tags.

Loopd also provides a suite of analytics so planners can track the volume and locations of interactions between the devices in real time or after the event.

“There was a lot of value in meeting some of the other participants at IMEX,” says Brian Friedman, founder of Loopd. “We met some other event companies we’re potentially going to work with, and it’s good for our marketing because the award helped to solidify the validation of our product.”

When asked about the benefit of #IMEXpitch for meeting planners, Friedman said, “I think it shows planners that IMEX and the companies involved are thought leaders and trendsetters. It also gives the industry immediate feedback about what people like.”

InitLive Cloud Communications

InitLive placed second at the first #IMEXpitch at IMEX America in October 2014 when the company was still in beta, before returning to win the competition at IMEX Frankfurt last year. As opposed to Loopd’s high profile Silicon Valley provenance, InitLive was founded by a mother and daughter team based in Ottawa, Canada.

The event tech is designed to help meeting planners communicate in real time with event staff and volunteers, and schedule staff at different event locations pre-event and on the fly during conferences.

Melissa Pinard, co-founder of InitLive, says #IMEXpitch drove a big jump in website views and social media engagement. She says, “The experience helped us better understand our customer because we were introduced to so many hosted buyers.”

Alyssa Lancefield, sales manager at InitLive, gave the pitch presentation last year.

“We took it very seriously and rewrote our pitch countless times,” she told Skift. “I think we were successful because we’re part of a new wave of event tech where we’re actually helping planners have a better life. So much of the new technology today is focused on the attendee.”

That is the value of #IMEXpitch. This is one of the few event platforms designed to showcase event startup culture specifically for meeting professionals, who often don’t have the education to make informed decisions about tech strategy because the technology is evolving so quickly.

“The main challenge for us at IMEX is one of attention, battling for eyes and ears,” says Neves. “Many planners like to know about new ideas, new products and new concepts. But it’s the next step of getting further understanding about a product, and planning for integrations and allocating resources that is harder to get to.”

We asked Neves what he sees as the biggest challenge for planners.

“It is always simpler to do the same as at the last event, but some startups offer really innovative solutions that are only effective when fully implemented,” he told us. “This is a leap of faith that only the more confident and tech savvy planners are willing to take.”

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