Tech Industry Reset for DEMO?

What’s next? The DEMO conference has long reigned as a launching pad for the hottest startups in emerging technology. But something bigger is at play this year: the lousy economy.

Organizers might be hoping that less is more. The conference kicks off Monday with 40 new tech products and services on tap, down from 70 at the last DEMO in September.

“My view is that this a reset year,” said Chris Shipley, the host and executive producer of DEMO. “We went through the dotcom cycle, hit a bottom, bounced back with Web 2.0 and for four or five years it’s been social media and the consumer Internet trend that’s been hot,” Shipley told

Those same technologies will be in evidence this week along with some brand new ideas that have breakout potential. Among the highlights DEMO has released ahead of Monday’s event:

  • One company will be showing a portable device that works both as a netbook and a touch screen tablet. “It’s like a netbook with iPhone design principles,” says Shipley.
  • Speaking of the iPhone, the first voice-to-text SMS application for the Apple mobile device is also on tap making it easier to message while on the go.
  • On the video front, one company is scheduled to show a network package of small, battery-powered wireless cameras. The network streams video directly to the Internet so you essentially have an instant monitoring system for the home or office that’s more flexible than a dedicated, fixed location camera.
  • Another networking twist is a commerce-based solution that allows subscribers to send various forms of content via Bluetooth. Pending more details, this seems like a pretty innovative product given Bluetooth is used mainly for short-length wireless connectivity (e.g. wireless keyboards, cell phone speakers, etc.)
  • And at least one company will be showing a potential solution for those trying to stay ahead of the daily deluge of email. DEMO will feature the debut of “a personal email assistant that can initiate and sort through emails and parse conversations, files, images, media, dates and places.”

Like other trade shows, DEMO companies pay to participate, but there’s also a vetting process. Companies have to have a new technology or service that hasn’t been shown publicly before they can be considered as a featured presenter.

Shipley thinks there’s a renewed realism to this year’s crop of companies.

“This is such a global, deep recession that cuts across industries and companies big and small. It’s a real reset and an opportunity for companies to figure out how to build smart, capital efficient organizations,” she said. “And the other key, especially now, is to attract happy customers with products and services you can build to scale.”

Historically, many of the companies at DEMO go on to be successful, but there have also been plenty of flops. Among the reasons, the technology was too early or didn’t address a real need in the marketplace.

Shipley notes there will be more business-oriented companies at the show “because that’s where the money is.”

Online ad-supported startups? Not so much

“There has been a tremendous faith in the ad industry by a lot of startups that don’t understand it,” she said. There are a lot of moving parts to make online advertising work well for big advertisers.

“We’ve seen a lot of experimentation, but when you step back and look at it, the big brands are still mainly in things like TV and sporting events. Some of the new concepts for online ads are fantastic, but you still need to reach tens of millions of people clicking to make an ad model work for these big companies.”

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