Speed Dating for Techies

Chris ShipleyThe format of DEMO08 is rather interesting: Each company only has 6 minutes to make their pitch in the main room, so they have to really distill their presentation to the essentials. For the most part, they’ve practiced their lines, some so much so that it almost feels like an infomercial, albeit with something you’d actually want to buy–no one’s cutting tomatoes and tin cans with Ginsu knives here. The presentations boil down like this: There’s a brief introduction (usually by the CEO and a second in command), who then pose a problem, and how their company solves that problem with a brief demonstration. As Chris Shipley, the executive producer says, it’s a bit like drinking from a fire hose. At the same time, it’s a refreshing format that generally keeps the audience from drifting off. Shipley also has a folksy manner about her as she introduces the companies, which makes the conference a bit more intimate. During the first break, Shipley explained a bit more how the conference works. While there are a few commonalities among the various presenters, the “categories” resolve themselves naturally, instead of being thought up ahead of time. “Unlike following a recipe, where you know the ingredients ahead of time, the DEMO conference is a little bit like going to the farmer’s market,” she said. “You look for the best and freshest produce, and then try to figure out what to make from it. We just see so much stuff–about 1,500 companies a year–that after a while, you start to see things that stand out.” Although that list is whittled down to 77 companies, there’s no assurance that they’ll all be successful. But that’s not necessarily the point, Shipley said. “What we’re doing is due diligence on ideas,” she said. Several years ago, a company called Hot Office debuted browser-based software, and while the company itself wasn’t successful, the concept took hold. Technology has yet to get to the point where it’s ubiquitous, but invisible, according to Shipley. “Simplicity on the other side of complexity. That’s what we have to strive for,” she said, quoting FCC chairman Michael Powell. And that’s where companies like the ones at DEMO can succeed. “Companies like SAP have huge initiatives to look at user interfaces,” she said. “That’s a big ship to turn around. That’s the window of opportunity for younger companies to come in and upset the balance.”

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