The NEC – Photo © Graham Hogg (cc-by-sa/2.0)

It’s the time of year to start looking forward to the best innovation conference and showcase in the UK – Innovate 2017.

This year it is taking place on 8th and 9th November at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) Birmingham.

From space and robotics to food and urban planning there will be a full programme of talks, panels and discussions. 100+ businesses will be exhibiting their latest innovations. Business support organisations will be on hand to provide tailored advice, and there is a facility to pre-arrange 1-2-1 meetings with people you would particularly like to speak to.

It is a pretty packed couple of days and full details can be found on the website.

Increase your visibility

It is a great place to increase your visibility. A chance to see and be seen. To mingle with other entrepreneurs and innovators, hear inspiring talks and to raise your  profile.

 Sherry Coutu in her work on the Scale up Britain report and with the Scale up Institute has shown the huge importance of visibility whilst you are trying to grow. SME’s report that just being known about is vital to growing the business and being successful. Innovate 2017 and similar events are good places to get known.

But will it be worth it?

The problem is, entrepreneurs are regularly told that they need to focus. To strip away all the distractions, say no to all extraneous activity and concentrate on building the business.

Good advice. As new opportunities come up entrepreneurs are forced to ask themselves the question over and over again – “is this going to move me forward?”

And one of the ‘opportunities’ that will certainly be brought to your attention will be an invitation to participate in an innovation/product/technology showcase, as a visitor or as an exhibitor

Many people will look at these invites sceptically. Am I really going to meet a new customer? Will I be discovered by that key investor? Will it be worth the time and effort?

If I am an exhibitor I may spend 3 hours setting up, 8 hours manning my stand and 3 hours stripping down, all to end up twiddling my thumbs and meeting no one.

Perhaps I will go to a pitching showcase, and end up talking to a room full of people who want to sell me business services.

If I am honest you don’t often suddenly find a new customer, investor or partner through a showcase alone, so it is a risk, but if you go prepared and with an open mind there are real benefits to taking part in showcases and other innovation events.

Test your thinking

 At a good event you will spend a lot of time explaining your idea to those it is new to. You will meet interesting and interested people with different backgrounds who will ask you all sorts of weird questions. Perhaps because they bring a different perspective, or perhaps they have misunderstood what you are trying to do.

This gives you a great opportunity to test and refine your thinking. To look at your innovation from different perspectives, and occasionally to get that “Aha!” moment when all your work falls into place in a different configuration and you see a new way forward, or another opportunity.

Perfect your pitch

 At the same time as testing your thinking you are also developing the pitch. What problem does the product solve for the customer? How does the new service fit into the market? Who needs this and who cares? Repeatedly explaining your innovation to an eclectic group of people who may or may not understand the technicalities is a great way to develop that critical ‘elevator pitch’. Sharp, fast and focused.

I have met many companies who have realised that their innovation had applications and benefits that they had not considered properly before. I know one company that completely changed their business model and the way they explained it based on constantly pitching at a showcase event.

Putting on a good show will spread your name by word of mouth, create a buzz on social media, and may get some mainstream media attention.

Learn from others

 One of the great things that happens at events is the opportunity to talk to other innovators and hear their story. What did they do, why did they do it, how did they do it, and what will they do next?

It can change your perspective on your own work; give new insights and suggest other routes you could take.

Companies have found partners who have a key technology solution they desperately need, someone who can solve a manufacturing issue, or give them access to a key market.

Take the opportunity

The Innovate UK family put on a lot of showcases, from the major annual Innovate conference and exhibition to showcases at specialist conferences and exhibitions and local events.

So do Local Enterprise Partnerships, Growth Hubs, City Regions and many other groups involved in business support.

The Knowledge Transfer Network and the Enterprise Europe Network are good sources of information on events around the country.

See you there!

So next time an invitation to participate comes along think about it. It could be a valuable exercise to test and refine your thinking and your pitch, and you may get some new ideas or find new collaborators.

I am going to Innovate 2017 because it will be fun, it will be interesting, and it will be useful. I am looking forward to having some great conversations and learning some new and remarkable things. I hope to see you there!


Seeing and Being Seen
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