Innovation Festivals: What They Are and Why You Should Attend

Innovation Festivals: What They Are and Why You Should Attend

It’s festival season. Beautiful spring weather brings festivals of all types, from food to music. For entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts, this is also the time of year for a more recent trend: “innovation” festivals.

Some people might argue that tech or innovation festivals should really be called conferences. Admittedly at first glance, some of these more business-oriented events have little in common with muddy outdoor music festivals.

Tech conference

Innovation festivals got their name during the 1990s internet boom, especially due to South by Southwest’s addition of a tech portion to its wildly successful megafestival. Since then, the name has stuck, and innovation festivals have only grown in popularity.

And “innovation festival” makes sense: These are festive occasions. The focus is on the most eye-catching new technologies, like virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and drones. Even non-techies are welcome, and maybe that’s the point. Marketers, investors, or just curious consumers can come and get excited about the next big thing. “Conferences” are for the behind-the-scenes specialists; “festivals” are fun for all.

Entering a World of Ideas

Innovation festivals aren’t just about playing with the latest toys. There are fun and games, to be sure, but those aren’t the only benefits for attendees.

Festivals provide the opportunity to share ideas. If someone wants to be wowed by a drone’s capabilities, they just have to go on YouTube. But at a festival, drone enthusiasts can get together and chat about the way they use them, the problems they commonly encounter, and their predictions for where drone technology is headed. Sharing a room with like-minded people is the surest way to spark new ideas.

These exchanges are also where networking occurs. In the rapidly changing world of technology, it’s even more important to have connections to the people making the latest breakthroughs. Fortunately, because of the open, fun atmosphere at festivals, making those connections is easy.

But even participants who don’t get a hundred email addresses have plenty to gain from the mere excitement of the festival. These events often rekindle that spark of enthusiasm and inspiration for entrepreneurship and innovation.

Salon Swiss Mobile Expo
photo credit: Alp ICT (Switzerland)

Stepping Outside the Silicon Bubble

Silicon Valley is still the biggest hub for the tech world, but the East Coast scene is becoming just as strong. Tech junkies in the New York area who don’t want to make the cross-country trip to California or Texas can check out these nearby festivals.

Propelify is a new festival that’s taken the Northeastern tech world by storm. Its second annual event, which wrapped up May 18, featured more than 40 speakers, numerous exhibits, several investors, music, and food, all on a pier in Hoboken, New Jersey, that provided a beautiful view of the NYC skyline.

NY TechDay is another great event in the area. Now in its sixth year, it attracts hundreds of startups and tens of thousands of attendees. TechDay is hosted on Pier 94, so it feels more like an indoor conference compared with on outdoor fest like Propelify, but TechDay offers a similar array of fresh apps and gadgets in a T-shirt-friendly environment.

NYC Developer Week is a large, wide-ranging event that focuses more on the programming side of the tech world. Tech executives, entrepreneurs, dev managers, and all manner of developers can attend sessions about the latest in languages, management, apps, AI, and more.

Coffee break at an Innovation festival

Getting in on the Action

It’s certainly possible to attend or send employees to several festivals, but for most entrepreneurs and companies, it’s probably more practical to pick out just one or two. Taking some time to plan out your innovation festival strategy can really pay off.

First, do your research. Innovation festivals are great at promoting their events on social media and their websites. They also receive plenty of publicity, so check out reviews written by people who aren’t associated with the event. Some important aspects to pay attention to are the location, the number of attendees, the presenters, the organizer or owner, and the price.

The next step is to talk with organizers. Even with the high volume of promotion for each event, certain details can often remain hazy. Talking with the organizers before signing up can give you a feel for what type of event they have in mind. You’ll also be able to better gauge what role you or your company might play at their festival.

After gathering information on potential events, decide on your or your company’s level of participation. Attending, exhibiting, and sponsoring are all ways to participate in an innovation festival, and they all have their own benefits.

Innovation festivals are transformative events. Countless companies and entrepreneurs have made crucial connections and had creative breakthroughs at these types of events. Check them out for yourself, and get inspired.

Ari Rabban

Ari Rabban is the CEO of and a veteran of the IP communications industry.’s virtual phone service builds on the digital VoIP industry experience of its founders to deliver a complete suite of enterprise-grade unified communication services at an SMB price. Ari was named among the Top 20 Most Influential People in VoIP 2012 and currently serves on several boards, including the New Jersey Tech Council. You can follow him on Twitter @arabban.