Eureka Park, the very best a part of CES, is lacking this yr

As you’ve probably heard by now, CES 2021 will be entirely virtual.

There will be no crowded convention halls, no tech-saturated booths to explore, and no physical element for the show. Like many other parts of life these days, this year’s show is mainly experienced through screens. But that’s not the biggest problem. What amazes me far more is that the best part of the show – the messy startups smorgasbord known as Eureka Park – isn’t happening this year because I’ve gone virtual.

Well, not formally anyway.

The core of new ideas

For those of you who have never attended a CES in person, Eureka Park is essentially the “budget” section of the CES where all startups gather. The Consumer Technology Association (the trade organization that started CES) started it a few years ago to encourage shabbier, early-stage tech companies to participate. The idea is that instead of paying tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars for an extravagant display in the regular exhibition space, smaller businesses can pay a significantly lower fee to get a significantly smaller, more Spartan booth in Eureka Park.

And boy do you do that? Over the past few years, hordes of startups have joined the fight, happily packing themselves into the Prius-sized booths at Eureka Park to showcase their things – including gems like a hydrofoil e-bike, a mosquito-killing laser and a brainwave reading prosthetic arm. The lack of freedom of movement doesn’t seem to bother anyone. In fact, it creates a lively and exciting atmosphere because the only way to stand out in such a crowded space is to bring something truly unique to the table.

There is also some kind of sink-or-swim element. The CTA rules for Eureka Park dictate that no company can exhibit there for more than two years in a row – effectively guaranteeing that a new list of disruptive ideas is issued every year. It’s an amazingly effective formula. Nowhere else at CES will you find such a lively, dynamic and truly innovative group of exhibitors as in Eureka Park.

Unfortunately, that mosh pit of innovations built through venture-backed, crowdfunding and garage is not happening in 2021. Since everyone is “exhibiting” online this year, there is no way for the CTA to sensibly separate the poorly paid startups from the bigwigs of electronics companies. So it was scrapped. And it was probably a smart move too, since a virtual CES doesn’t offer much for startups anyway. Why should you pay your hard-earned cash for a virtual press event that you could probably only hold on your own?

Unsurprisingly, many are doing just that this year.

Piggyback PR

Even without Eureka Park, there are still many startups with starry eyes who will present their big ideas next week – although not all of them are necessarily involved in CES. This year I’ve seen a significant increase in companies that are not on the exhibitor list but happen to be launching new products or services next week – no doubt due to the increased buzz and attention that product launches tend to get this time of year .

This is not a new tactic. In fact, it’s quite common, even when CES isn’t virtual. Companies often decide to save money on the exhibition space and instead only take part in one of the numerous satellite events of the CES such as Showstoppers, Pepcom or FoodTech Live! To perform. Others simply grab a suite at a nearby hotel and invite you to a demo while you’re in the area. You don’t necessarily have to be at CES to be at CES. And that also applies to a virtual CES.

So do not worry. Despite the fact that the most fun part of CES stopped working this year, there are still plenty of exciting innovations to be seen next week. Remember, you may have to look beyond CES to find it all.

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  • Through perseverance we conquer: Why I’ll miss a personal CES this year

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