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There's nothing wrong with showing off

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Entrepreneurs are regularly told that they need to focus. To strip away all the distractions, say no to all extraneous activity and concentrate on building the business.

Good advice.

As new opportunities come up, entrepreneurs are forced to ask themselves the question over and over again – “is this going to move me forward?”

And one of the ‘opportunities’ that will certainly be brought to your attention will be an invitation to participate in our and Department for International Trade's  Innovate 2016 innovation showcase.

Many people will look at these pressing invitations sceptically. Am I really going to meet a new customer? Will I be discovered by that key investor? Will it be worth the time and effort, or will I spend 3hours setting up, 8 hours manning my stand and 3 hours stripping down, all to end up twiddling my thumbs and meeting no one? Perhaps I will go to a pitching showcase, and end up talking to a room full of people who want to sell me business services?

Yes, these are risks, and if we are honest you don’t often suddenly find a new customer or investor through a showcase alone, but there are some less obvious benefits to taking part in showcases that are very real.

Test your thinking

Exhibitors at Innovate 2015 2
Exhibitors talking at Innovate 2015

At a good event you will spend a lot of time explaining your idea to those it is new to. You will meet interesting and interested people with different backgrounds who will ask you all sorts of weird questions. Perhaps because they bring a different perspective, or perhaps they have misunderstood what you are trying to do.

This gives you a great opportunity to test and refine your thinking. To look at your innovation from different perspectives, and occasionally to get that “Aha!” moment when all your work falls into place in a different configuration and you see a new way forward, or another opportunity.

Perfect your pitch

Alex Cole from PolyPhotonix makes his pitch at the Innovate UK Tech-inspired Collaboration Nation event
Alex Cole from PolyPhotonix makes his pitch at the Innovate UK Tech-inspired Collaboration Nation event

At the same time as testing your thinking, you are also developing the pitch:

  • what problem does the product solve for the customer?
  • how does the new service fit into the market?
  • who needs this and who cares?

Repeatedly explaining your innovation to an eclectic group of people who may or may not understand the technicalities is a great way to develop that critical ‘elevator pitch’: sharp, fast and focused.

See Innovate UK’s essential tips on pitching for investment for start-ups and small businesses

I have met many companies who have realised that their innovation had applications and benefits that they had not considered properly before. I know one company that completely changed their business model and the way they explained it based on constantly pitching at a showcase event.

Increase your visibility

Exhibitors at Innovate 2015
Robot on display at Innovate 2015

Sherry Coutu in her work on the Scale up Britain report and with the Scale up Institute has shown the huge importance of visibility whilst you are trying to grow. SMEs report that just being known about is vital to growing the business and being successful.

Putting on a good show at a showcase:

  • will spread your name by word of mouth
  • will create a buzz on social media
  • may get some mainstream media attention

Find collaborators 


One of the great things that happens at showcases is the exhibitors wandering around and having a look at each other’s stand. This often leads to very exciting conversations about:

  • why you have done something
  • how you did it
  • why you didn’t do something else
  • what else you could do

Companies have found partners who have a key technology solution they desperately needed, someone who can solve a manufacturing issue, a company that can give them access to a key market. There are also examples of companies at showcase events coming together to create totally new businesses out of the blending of their ideas and skills.

Seize the opportunity

The Innovate UK family put on a lot of showcases: from the major annual Innovate conference and exhibition to showcases at specialist conferences and exhibitions and local events.

So do Local Enterprise Partnerships, Growth Hubs, City Regions and many other groups involved in business support. Our Enterprise Europe Network can help you find out what is going on and what is suitable for your interests.

So next time an invitation to participate in a showcase comes along, think about it. It could be a valuable exercise to test and refine your thinking and your pitch, and you may get some new ideas or find new collaborators.

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