How the Coronavirus crisis impacts startup & technology events in Europe

Due to the implications of the Coronavirus crisis, travel restrictions and new rules that prevent larger gatherings, we were recently forced to postpone our EU-Startups Summit from May 2020 to April 29-30, 2021. But of course, it not only hit us, but pretty much all event organisers! Literally every single larger gathering in Europe that was planned for March, April, May, June and July has been cancelled or postponed by now.

In mid-February, while the Coronavirus hotspot was China, Mobile World Congress was one of the first major events that cancelled their 2020 edition due to public health concerns, and due to a large number of dropouts from their exhibitors and partners. Back then, many people in the event and tech industry were surprised by this move, which in hindsight turned out to be the right thing to do.

Shortly afterwards, the Coronavirus found its way to Europe, the pandemic was on the rise, and it became more and more clear that there might not be the possibility for big international startup and technology events anymore to happen this year. At least not during spring and summer. And many events that were about to happen in Q4 of this year have also already been cancelled. Most recently Slush, which was about to happen in November, announced its cancelation due to COVID-19.

Events like the PIRATE Summit or the TNW conference already postponed their events from June to September/October, but will most likely soon be forced to cancel their 2020 edition alltogether. The challenge that international startup events currently face is that they not only have to fear if their event might be legally allowed to take place on date X, but the bigger question is actually if attendees, exhibitors and sponsors would be already willing again to take the risk to participate in mass gatherings. For 2020 this might not be more than just wishful thinking.

According to our recent Twitter poll, only 18,6% of our followers expect things to “go back to normal” during this year’s summer, 37.2% think this might be possible during the 4th quarter of this year, and 44.2% think that we’re going back to normal only in Q1 of 2021 or later. This is also backed up by many health and pandemic experts, who say that going back to normal life (incl. international travel without restrictions, and allowing large gatherings) might only be possible again if a vaccine is available, which unfortunately is very unlikely to happen before Q1 of 2021.

To learn more about the concrete impact of the Coronavirus crisis on startup & technology events in Europe, we just did a survey with about 30 of Europe’s leading startup and technology events. We’re herewith sharing with you what we’ve learned from that:

  1. 85% of the event organisers stated that the Coronavirus crisis forced them to cancel or to postpone an event that they had planned for 2020. 15% said they didn’t have to cancel or postpone anything (yet).
  2. Question: When do you expect larger gatherings like startup & technology conferences to be possible again? Answers: 30% said “in the 3rd quarter of 2020”, another 30% said “in the 4th quarter of 2020”, 22% said “in the 1st quarter of 2021”, and another 18% said “in the 2nd quarter of 2021 or later”.
  3. Question: In case your main event can’t take place in 2020, what does this mean for your business and the future of your event? Answers: 52% said “This would put us in a very challenging situation, unsure if we can continue the event in 2021”. Another 48% said that “This is no big problem for us and the event will continue in the future”.
  4. Question: Do you think there is a realistic chance to expect meaningful financial help from governmental initiatives to partly compensate your big loss in event revenues? Answers: 84% said “I don’t think so” and 16% said “Yes, I think so”.
  5. Question: Do you see online events and webinars potentially as a good alternative for your offline event? Answers: 57% said “Yes, we will/might try that” and 43% said “No, I don’t think so”.
  6. Question: Are you forced to let go employees due to the negative impact of the crisis? Answers: 29% said “Yes, unfortunately”, 26% said “Maybe”, and 45% said “Luckily not”.

To sum it up, the event industry, as many other areas of our economy and lives, has been hit hard by the Coronavirus crisis, and the sad result could be that a number of startup and technology events might need to shut down completely.

Since we know that these kind of events are an important cornerstone for the European startup ecosystem/s, especially when it comes to meeting investors and co-founders, making deals, or just to get inspired, we hope that the vast majority of startup and technology events will survive this storm.

As our annual EU-Startups Summit is our biggest revenue source, we’ve been forced into immediate survival mode. But we’ll try our best to not only survive this crisis, but to come out stronger and to provide you with an even better event experience on April 29-30, 2021, in Barcelona. See you there!

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