Taking Your Startup To A Major Tech Expo

Having your young company represented at a major Information Technology industry expo or event could make a huge difference in your traction, and hopefully eventual success.

Sadly, this isn’t on the radar of a lot of tech founders in Africa for several legitimate reasons. However, I hope that sharing my experience at GITEX 2014 will stir up the will which will (hopefully) make the way.

Leaving the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos on an Emirates flight to Dubai I was pumped.

On landing in Dubai, the outdoor temperature was just as hot as Lagos but the Emirate spared no expense in making sure that I became unaware of the heat as everywhere it was air-conditioned from the airport shuttle to the terminal to the cab (believe the hype!).

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid All Maktoum in attendance at GITEX 2014 Image Credit: iAfrikan

On leaving the airport, I met Dubai at sunrise when the golden light rays danced seductively on the tops of the skyscrapers along Sheikh Zayed Road. I had heard about the vision and audacity of Dubai’s Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid All Maktoum but actually seeing it still left me spellbound.

My visit to GITEX 2014 in Dubai was courtesy of the Nigerian Information technology development Agency (NITDA). This NITDA championed Nigeria’s move to be the official country partner for the GITEX 2014.

Mr. Peter Jack, Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency, and other Nigerian officials at the #Nigeria stand at #GITEX Technology Week 2014. Image Credit: iAfrikan

This sponsorship provided for Nigeria to have strategic exhibition pavillion space, extended mention in all GITEX communications and a dedicated event to woo & educate foreign investors on ICT opportunities in Nigeria. Nerve Mobile (which I am Co-Founder and CTO of) got a stand at the Nigerian pavilion to exhibit the awesomeness of our devices.

GITEX was amazing, it is probably the largest tech expo after GSMA’s MWC in Barcelona or CES in the US, many of the companies that can’t or won’t go to Europe or the US come to GITEX.

Tech companies with cutting edge products in new and exciting fields had their stuff on display in 2014, everything from wearables to big data products were on display. The heavyweights like Oracle, Mediatek, Microsoft, Etisalat, Nerve (but of course!) were present.

Mr. Peter Jack, Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency, and other Nigerian officials at the #Nigeria stand at #GITEX Technology Week 2014. Image Credit: iAfrikan

I particularly enjoyed showing off the uniqueness of the Nerve devices to people that came by our booth. Indeed it was our 1st showing at a global expo. Even though our team was inexperienced, we however made the most of it and had fun.

Here are my key take away lessons from GITEX that can be applied towards maximizing your tech startups investment in attending a major tech expo:

  1. Plan to be global from day one. There are amazing people and companies just a few hours away that are looking for a partner / supplier just like you and an expo can help you get in touch with them. There were probably more companies from Taiwan at GITEX 2014 than there were companies from the entire Africa, this must change!

  2. Make sure you attend essential keynotes and technical sessions. These give insights into the minds of foremost thinkers in your industry and beyond.

  3. It is a science and an art to carry out a good showing at an expo. This requires making the right banners, decals, fliers, brochures (possibly in multiple languages), having a huge supply of business cards, showing up with really cool but inexpensive merchandise you can give away to your booth visitors (you never know which part of the world they will take it), having your elevator pitch mastered by every member of your team, having a physical cool game-like or multimedia product attraction at your booth to draw in passersby. Learn the science, perfect the art, grow your venture!

  4. As lead team member at your startup's stand you need to take time out and explore other stands. In fact, you should have a wish list and prior appointments with companies you want to see. Take the time to find them out and meet with them. Believe it or not, multi-million dollar deals start at booth near you! You will never find a more dense gathering of global companies in one place. It's the easiest & cheapest way to connect.

  5. Never leave your startup's exhibition booth unmanned. There must always be someone there that is knowledgeable enough to meet and talk with people visiting your stand.

  6. Take time to have MAD FUN with your team. Be sure to see the sights and catch the trips. In Dubai, I went for the desert Safari and explored the mega mall and street gold markets. It was also about fun.

Silas Okwoche on a Quad Bike Desert Safari Image Credit: Silas Okwoche

Cover Image Credit: Silas Okwoche