Startup challenges, run way and affording to attend conferences

After joining a new startup group where 12 founders with different businesses are discussing finance, expenses, ‘run way’ which is the amount of cash you have in the business to continue, some common themes come up from our discussion and from discussions with others.

Conferences can be a expensive but you can also choose not to attend them and reduce your marketing or business development budget quite a lot by selecting just a few to attend. You may be missing out on a valuable opportunities to meet others. However, you never know it if does turn to projects or business, it can often be for visibility only and quite often does not turn into business opportunities. And so new or small businesses have to make a call on this.

A conferences can cost between €400-2000 as you need to pay for travel, accommodation and dinners out.

An average cost for me is around €500-1000. I’m lucky in some ways as I get invited to speak at the events so often I don’t need to pay an entrance fee but travel and accommodation is needed and does add to our budget.

I’ve recently declined an opportunity to speak at COP28 as this would be high expense for FGA, it is in another continent, and I couldn’t consolidate any opportunities. I also declined an opportunity to speak in Switzerland and decided not to attend others. It isn’t possible to attend all events and this is something we need to realise as small businesses.

However having smaller consultancies, entrepreneurs, thought leaders at conferences can contribute valuable insights, project developments and new perspectives and create a more balanced and equitable audience and could prevent a developing blind spots. It is great to have big brands and well known organisations on stage but often people also want to know the stuff that goes wrong. This has been mentioned and discussed online a lot. FGA as consultants advises clients also to be upfront about that. Sustainability work is hard, there isn’t budget for it always, some projects get cancelled and it isn’t always collaborative.

At ADE Green one the audiences members was bringing up the fact that not all organisations/festival events have money to be sustainable so what about the rest? What about the SMEs and the smaller organisations? It was a valid point. It is great to give a platform to the big brands/organisations as their projects can go through and they market them well but some openness about struggling to get projects off the ground, the fact that most business have no budget for sustainability and it can end up in fall outs is also being asked for on stage too.

I have wanted to write up our thoughts and perspective for a while but it is tricky topic to discuss and this isn’t just to complain. It is a topic that comes up a lot so we can to open up a discussion so we can get more smaller organisations , students or career switchers on board and find some solutions. This article collects together my own experience as we as others I speak with.

Our collective suggestions for conference producers:

  • offer a very reduced rate for startups to make the conferences more inclusive, negotiate with travel and accommodation companies to offer rates for start ups and try to get them a better price with your own bargaining power
  • Add a budget from the profits from the tickets or the sponsorship to give a bursary to those who are startups or can’t find the budget to attend, potentially ask a limited number of startups to pitch for why they should be able to get in for free or get a reduced rate
  • Think about the hotel prices in the host countries, is it a very high cost country? If so it will reduce the amount of new people and entrepreneurs or startups being able to attend, could you choose a lower cost city next time?
  • Ensure everything is hybrid so people or speakers can join from home if they have children, commitments or low budget for conferences, it also reduced the travel emissions, see project https://remotely.green/
  • In sustainability we talk about collaboration but it can be ‘collaboration washing’ as some call it, work to make collaboration a reality by making your content and events accessible

Advice to startup or entrepreneurs:

  • Ask the sponsors if they have spare tickets which is often part of the package they are given by the conference producer
  • Ask to speak on a panel
  • Ask someone to sponsor you to go to the events, as we develop Fly Green Alliance as a membership I realise having 2 members join would cover speaking at event, accommodation and travel and for next year I will work to have that in our budget to attend up to 10 events
  • Stay with a friends or family if possible
  • If you are being asked to attend conferences then you need to ask for sponsorship from someone or add this into your invoices or day rate when setting a budget with a client, you have to aim to get funds for this kind of marketing and business development, and in some ways add these costs into your overheads. Some organisation can’t find budget for you so you do need to make a call on if that is a fair exchange. If you feel it is not then don’t attend or work on their behalf for free. As business owners we have to get comfortable with asking to be paid and making the case for this.

A few situations which have prevented attendance ay events:

  • Offered a startup stand but needed to pay €500 to have the stand, this is tricky for startups and a ROI might not be gained especially if it is early stages or without a product
  • Been classed as a Solution Provider/vendor which would mean that you would pay the same price as a PWC, Deloitte or KMPG or a big brand, as start up you are not on the same day rate as big consultancies or can access to this sort of budget for conferences

Inclusive event examples:

  • Brussels events are public consultations so most are free, you could attend some of these dependent on the sector you are in
  • Our hats off to ADE Green who offered their conference for €99 which is accessible and had a great list of speakers and opportunities to network.
  • Royal Air Maroc paid for travel and accommodation so FGA could join their innovation challenge week
  • CANSO offers students travel costs to be able to attend as a speaker
  • The Economist offers free attendance for CEOs

If you have further examples or would like to put a task group together to support this development you can be in touch with sarah@flygreenalliance.org to discuss further. FGA would gladly support this DEI initiative.

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