How to exhibit as a startup

Many of our clients are technology startups who are perhaps venturing into their first tradeshow as an exhibitor. We’ve likely all been exhibition visitors at some point but if you’ve never been on the other side of the coin, exhibiting can be a daunting experience. Particularly for startups where marketing budgets are lean, and for technology startups where it can be difficult to translate exactly what you do within a physical setup.

Saying that, tradeshows have a range of benefits. They often help startups to get active facetime with investors, add customers to the funnel, get a boost in sales or sign-ups and even source new employees. For startups who are later in the journey, perhaps looking to raise their next round or even be acquired, tradeshows are a shop floor for interested buyers.

Of course all of this relies on a high-quality exhibition stand presence that hits all of the right spots. Here, we look at how to exhibit as a startup and how to be successful at it.


A key proposition

One of the benefits of being a startup is that you already have your ‘elevator pitch’ nailed. After all, you’ve probably spent the last year telling everyone from your Grandma to your advisors what you do and why you do it. This is a fantastic start to the exhibition experience, where you’ll likely need to pitch, pitch and pitch again to those passing by the booth. However, it’s also key to think about your proposition for this specific tradeshow and experience. So often we see companies exhibiting who show little more than what the visitor could find out from looking at their website or Twitter page. If you’re going to invest in a tradeshow booth then at least do it the justice of coming up with its own value proposition. Whether this is a new product launch, a theme, a particular story that you’ll tell to the audience or even a competition or gamification element. Planning this structure and infusing your stand with an approach that’s led by marketing, will ensure you stand out against the competition.

Smaller stand, big ideas

In exhibition spaces bigger stands aren’t necessarily better. Something we pride ourselves on at 4D is making a beautiful, well-executed stand presence out of a stand of any size. Often it is the small details, the way the stand works down to how it has been designed and the people on the stand who make the experience.

If you have a big idea and the passion to prove it, the space you stand on is irrelevant. So don’t get carried away trying to take a space that will clean out your budget. Look for a smaller space that leaves you some scope for planning a beautiful, flawless design and work with your exhibition design agency on making the most of the space you’ve got. No one will ever leave your booth and say ‘wow that stand was too small’ but they may leave and say ‘wow what a boring experience’.

Consider grants and funds

If you’re a UK-based startup you could apply for funding from The Tradeshow Access Programme which gives grants for eligible businesses to attend overseas trade shows. Many shows, including Mobile World Congress, also offer access to government-funded pavilions which are a great way to test the water of a show without having to invest in your own booth. In the US, many state governments also have a tradeshow assistance program to support international tradeshow presences.

This is definitely worth considering if you are an early-stage startup and could save you thousands of bucks on your first exhibition presence at some of the largest tradeshows in the world! If you need help, feel free to contact the 4D team, who could help you work out what you’re eligible for at shows such as MWC.

Decide how to track your results

There has to be a concrete ‘why’ to your reason for exhibiting when appearing at a tradeshow. Whether this is to build awareness, get an email list started or convert business leads or sign-ups on the show floor. Without this, it will be extremely difficult to quantify why you’re doing what you’re doing and how to track it.

Building a KPI strategy from the offset will ensure that when questioned by investors or stakeholders, you can easily track the experience from initial aims down to results.

For example, one company we worked with wanted to bring their products to life, so we created custom animations and used digital technology as the canvas through which to create more engaging displays.

Another wanted to see which products their customers were truly interested in, as well as the call to actions that worked and the points of engagement that would really make their audience sit up. We deployed sensors in each key area that tracked footfall and dwell time. From this, the company was able to get early results on what marketing worked throughout every element of design, footfall and customer engagement.


Stay away from gimmicks and cheap freebies

As a startup you’re often forced to prove your credibility again and again against more established business models. Why make this even harder by deploying gimmicky technology or cheap freebies in your exhibition space? Visitors have more respect for companies who engage them using interesting pitches and great presence, than those who offer free pens and stress balls.

Technology without purpose can also do more harm than good – and will be expensive too. At 4D we only focus on technology when it can add something to the booth presence that wouldn’t otherwise be achieved. That way, technology from virtual reality experiences through to LED video walls, adds to the stand purpose rather than detracting from it.

If your startup has an upcoming tradeshow that you’d like to get more help and advice on, please reach out to our team on– we’d love to help!