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Before, during, and after: how a startup can get the most out of conference participation (Part 1)

Why attend and how to prepare

Events have become not only a place to exchange ideas and methods of applying the latest technologies but also a real place of competition for startups. There you have an opportunity to attract the attention of investors, find new partners, and understand what is happening in your industry. According to the Ukrainian Startup Fund, in 2023, 187 Ukrainian teams participated in 19 of the world’s largest technology events. 

We’ve gathered tips from tech event organizers and regular attendees to help you make the most of your time and energy and avoid getting lost in the shuffle. The material will be released in two parts.

In the first, we’ll start with the basics: do you need to attend conferences and what to expect? Find all the pros and cons below.

Why you should attend conferences

  • Meet investors. Conferences are the perfect place to meet potential investors who might invest in your startup.
  • Network. You can meet people from different industries and expand your contacts, which can help open up new opportunities for your business.
  • Research new trends. Conferences allow you to learn about the latest technologies and market trends, which will help your startup stay at the forefront of innovation.
  • Build brand awareness. Speaking at a conference is an opportunity to raise awareness of your product or service and gain credibility in your industry.
  • Learn. Conference presentations, panel discussions, and workshops can teach you new strategies and approaches that will help your startup grow.

Which risks are there?

  • High cost. Attending conferences can be expensive, especially for small startups with limited budgets.
  • High competition. Conferences often bring together thousands of companies, making it difficult to stand out and attract the attention of investors or partners.
  • Waste of time. If you don’t do your homework and skip preparation for efficient conference navigation, it can be a waste of resources.
  • Potential disorientation. Too much information and events at conferences can lead to a loss of focus.
  • Unsuccessful contacts. Not all the contacts you make at a conference are useful or lead to results.

But there is good news. These risks can be avoided if you follow a simple rule: preparation. 

How to prepare for the conference

We asked Kateryna Stefanovych, Event Management Lead at Sigma Software, how to get the maximum out of the event without breaking the already limited budgets of startups. Kateryna develops the employer brand and creates unique events. She can tame an event of any complexity, for any budget, country, and format. In 5 years she has organized more than 130 technical events and presented the company at more than 50 conferences, including Web Summit in Lisbon, Our Crowd Summit in Israel, Devoxx Poland, IT Arena in Lviv, and others. During this time, she has stepped on dozens of rakes, tried different formats, and is ready to reveal the secret of how to prepare for a conference.

Teams often finish preparing for a conference by booking tickets, giving priority to polishing their pitch deck and developing a product. The result is a lack of focus, scattering on everything at once, unjustified budgets, and at best, returning home with a bunch of contacts, most of which are irrelevant. Inside conferences, however, many opportunities and nuances will help you achieve your goal, which everyone knows about but forgets when preparing

said Kateryna Stefanovych, Event Management Lead at Sigma Software

Let’s go through the main ones:

  • Goal: What are you going there for? Is your goal finding new clients, networking, investment search, competitor research, hiring, or maybe you just want to be inspired by trends? Answer the question clearly and focus on two main areas of your activities.
  • Go beyond the standard agenda: find out what tracks are available, whether participation with a stand is possible, and whether startup competitions, broadcasting, mentoring sessions, business matchmaking, and hackathons are planned.
  • Make plans for side events and your schedule: there is a chance to find an investor or client at presentations, but you are more likely to do so at smaller events that are not part of the main event. As practice shows, some organizers are ready to share these events directly on their website (such as ETHCC Paris), but if not, you can safely search for them in, evenbrite,, or Telegram groups, which often publish compiled tables with side events that are niche and worthy of attention.
  • Apply as a speaker: usually in 4–6 months, a CFP (Call for Papers) opens, where you can submit your candidacy and topics. There is a chance to get in, but we recommend paying special attention to the naming and originality of the topic, which ideally should be in line with the conference theme. 
  • Elevator pitch exercise: start practising a short, clear, and catchy description of your startup for networking and presentations. The rules are simple: 2 weeks before the conference, set aside 15 minutes a day to “sell” your idea. It’s important to find people who don’t know what you do and get honest feedback on what catches their eye, where you feel insecure, or where your explanations are too complicated. 
  • Delegate roles: Often teams go to conferences and have a common plan for the meeting. Can you split up and cover more ground? Think along these lines and send those who really need it and are able/will be willing to communicate a lot.
  • You can’t have a meeting if you don’t plan it: you can often find conference participants in conference mobile apps. If this is not possible, use social media and hashtag searches. 
  • You are remembered when you stand out: it can be an item of clothing, a hairstyle, an accessory, something small, but something that will capture a person’s attention and make them remember you among hundreds of others. The same applies to cold emails when you’re scheduling meetings before an event. Don’t write standardized messages, take the time to make sure your message catches the eye of a person out of 100 other invitations.
  • Act quickly and follow up on meetings and new connections right away: it always works to send a selfie of you and your friend right into the chat.
  • Have a QR code with quick access to your contacts and product: Linktree and Beacons are great options for this.
  • Create printed materials: business cards, informational brochures, and other materials about your startup that you can hand out to potential partners or investors. Yes, yes, it still works.
  • Don’t neglect partnership offers for booths: sometimes there are very good opportunities, for example, at the Web Summit conference there is a Startup Alley. If you are selected, you will have the opportunity to get a stand and 3 tickets for the price of one.
  • Minimize stress, you still have a startup to launch: conferences are not easy, because in addition to expertise, you pay with emotional resources. Get enough sleep, remember to drink, eat, and have everything you need for a comfortable stay, including a power bank, notebook, and comfortable shoes.

AI tools for conference planning and attendance

It’s easier and faster to navigate a conference if you have helpers. AI-powered apps can help you schedule a meeting, translate a speaker’s presentation, or follow important news that happens during the event. We have collected several tools that will make you be more productive at the conference: 

  • Crystal: Helps you analyze the communication style of conference participants and prepare for effective communication.
  • Covve: Helps you keep in touch with contacts made at the conference and track new opportunities.
  • Feedly: Helps you keep track of news and articles from your industry before the conference.
  • Voicea: Records key points and ideas during conference presentations.
  • Whova: Helps you organize your event schedule and connect with other attendees.

In this article, we told you why to attend conferences, what AI technologies to use, and detailed the steps that can be taken to prepare for the conference. The second part of the article will reveal the secrets of lead generation during the event and communication with the international community.

Stay tuned…