Will anyone ever successfully emulate the Finovate model?

The pros and cons of the Finovate model according to Simon Cadbury, and the emerging technologies that could benefit from adopting a similar approach to conferencing.

I’m always surprised why the Finovate concept hasn’t attracted more imitators. The fast-paced event, in which 80 handpicked financial technology providers are given just seven minutes to demonstrate their innovation (slides and canned videos are strictly forbidden) is now in its 11th year. The opportunity to get a broad, yet quick overview of the key innovation trends in fintech is a reason why it continues to prove so popular with financial executives, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, industry analysts and media alike. Not only that, it appears to be a great cash generator. By my estimates, each show generates $2.5m to $3.5m of income.

It’s little surprise that in 2016 the Informa group bought Finovate from founder Jim Bruene, and is in the process of expanding the forum from three events a year to six (with Hong Kong, Dubai and Cape Town added to the rota). However, beyond financial technology, I’ve yet to see the concept extend to other verticals. Some conferences have leveraged it on a small scale; giving a handful of innovators a platform to demonstrate their concept as part of a wider conference. On the whole, these have proved less intense and less well policed than a dedicated demoing event. But given the levels of disruption taking place everywhere you look, I can’t help feeling it would work for other verticals or emerging technologies, such as:

  • artificial intelligence
  • AR/VR
  • autotech/motor finance
  • blockchain
  • cybersecurity
  • digital health
  • insurtech
  • internet of things
  • marketing tech
  • proptech.

From experience, vertical-specific events do best, but there’s no shortage of interest in some of these emerging technologies. The business model of events can be highly risky, but also highly lucrative. I await with interest to see whether a model that has worked so well for Finovate for more than a decade will ever be successfully replicated.

Becoming best of the best

The one downside of the fast-paced Finovate concept is audience fatigue. Over a two-day period, the audience sits through four 80-90-minute sessions with up to 10 demoing companies in each. At the end of the event, six demoing companies are awarded ‘Best of Show’. To achieve this accolade, you need to have been voted, by the audience, one of the top three favorite demos on each given day. Votes are collected through the mobile event app, while Finovate employees, presenters and guests of demoing companies are not allowed to vote.

Finovate says that all demo slots are assigned randomly out of fairness to all presenters. However, your slot can have a determination on your likelihood of winning. If you’re on first, you may find that not all delegates have arrived or your presentation has been long forgotten by the time voting opens. If you’re on late, the audience may have tired and become more distracted by their work emails, and so on.

One of ieDigital’s key learnings is that the delivery is as important than the concept presented, if not more so. In the past, we’ve shown two highly innovate concepts to the Finovate audience:

  1. AppSensorFS – a cybersecurity tool that constantly monitors and analyzes customer behavior using machine learning to build a picture of typical usage, thereby helping to intercept unusual or suspicious behavior.
  2. Interact Collect – a digital-first approach to consumer debt collection that leverages chatbot and open banking functionality to offer a more collaborative approach to managing debt.

While well received, both were too niche, and our presentation style was too sincere for an information-swamped Finovate audience.

Over the years, I’ve yet to see a vendor use a professional actor, but I’ve seen companies try to win their audience over by dressing up, as well as including children, and even a former Miss Russia! They didn’t win the audience either. For FinovateFall 2018, we really worked on our script, and tried to convey the real business benefits of the solution we demonstrated, while also maintaining a more lighthearted dialog. We didn’t win Best of Show, but had a lot more fun presenting ourselves, and will update this article with our presentation video when we receive it.

As for the aforementioned emerging technologies, we’d love to see more events that take the bull by the horns and expand these niche areas into something with more impact across different regions. It’s an exciting landscape of technology out there, and the more businesses that engage with what’s going on, the better it will be for all of us.

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