in Big Ideas, Events, Startups

Rebooting DemoCamp


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DemoCamp was conceived in 2005. I have hosted approximately 30 events (I only missed one and that resulted in 2 companies that eventually exited: Bumptop and Sysomos). It has been 7 years. But the world has changed. There were no accelerators or cyclotrons. There was no iPhone or Android. And while Demo and DemoCamp continue to work (see mHealthDemoCamp, Hamilton, Guelph, Edmonton, Eclipse and others). The format is simple (DIY instructions here).  But I’m feeling like it is time to open a broader discussion about the role events like DemoCamp should play.

mHealth DemoCamp

Craig Netterfield (LinkedIn, @cnetterfield) described DemoCamp as “DemoDay for companies that aren’t in an incubator”.  It was an interesting observation about the role DemoCamp played as a structured social process for entrepreneurs, funders and the community. My challenge is that DemoCamp in Toronto can not continue in the same incarnation. I am hoping to have an open conversation and gather feedback from students, founders, employees, funders about how we make it better. There are lots of events in Toronto. I don’t want to do an event for the sake of an event. I want to build something better, something that solves a need that is a catalyst for success of entrepreneurs.

Sources of Event Inspiration

I keep wondering about what is the role of an event like DemoCamp. Is it one of the following?

  • PR and Awareness
  • Recruiting
  • Inspiration
  • Education
  • Social

Does an event like DemoCamap need to exist?

“Good things happen to you at events” – Nivi

Events are great. They allow individuals an opportunity and to interact in social norms, we are inherently social animals. And events “are the place to meet people who won’t meet with you. People who aren’t available over email or one-on-one go to events to make themselves available”. But it is the social norms or the event dynamics that can make for meaningful experiences. There is an assumption that we should continue hosting events like DemoCamp and Founders & Funders. The assumption is that these events are valuable to entrepreneurs, developers, designers, marketers and others.

The thing about events is that someone has to organize and pay for them. What are the costs? Facilities, audio/visual, ticketing, insurance, bar staff, liquor license, etc. While we strive for $0 or low cost to attendees, there are still hard costs that have to be covered. (And this doesn’t include lost opportunity costs of not working on other things). The Brad Feld book tour event for example had costs of approximately $17000. These costs included books, space rental, food, and staff. The books were the offset/proxy for the travel expenses for bringing a guest speaker. We had basically 2 revenue streams: sponsorship and ticket sales. But the goal was to host an amazing event with a great speaker that derived real value for entrepreneurs and policy makers.

What would you do to completely reboot DemoCamp? How would you change the event? What do you find valuable? Is it worth rebooting? What changes would you like to see?

Please fill out the survey and leave a comment!

    "Other" is I would use...
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  1. David, Here’s what I strongly suggest. There is no need to rack your brains on it. Toronto’s tech startup scene needs a regular gathering, period. 8-10/year. 

    The format to copy is very simple. It’s the NY Tech Meetup. I’ve attended there 3 times and presented once. I can talk to you about how they run it. They get 800 people on average per event. Stop calling it DemoCamp. Call it something else and new. Toronto Tech Meetup by Startup North, or GTA’s Tech Gathering…whatever.

    The companies that demo can be from the the entire spectrum. Pre-seed, Seed, Angel, A, whatever…as long as they are really interesting, have something new and timely. Companies apply and they are selected. NYTM has sessions with them prior to their demoing to really get everyone aligned. Sometimes they have an outside speakers, but the questions to the demoing companies are mostly from the audience. After the demos, they move to the social hour with food/drinks in the middle and more demo tables around the rooms. 

    You need to load some responsibilities off your shoulders and get others to help you. Get some new blood into your circle of organizers. Give roles to each. You don’t like logistics obviously. Let someone else do that. And among other things, sell annual sponsorships to offset the costs. The players are here and they have the funds and incentives to sponsor. 

    Be kind to yourself. Get some help. 

    Happy Holidays.

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