The Pros and Cons of Startup Alley

Presenting at Startup Alley at EdTech trade shows may not be all it’s hyped up to be.

alley at night

If you have a new startup in the world of EdTech, you’re probably weighing very carefully all marketing and networking opportunities against the cost of participating in them. At the top of many lists of networking and marketing opportunities is strategic participation in trade shows and conferences. Unfortunately, for many startups, the cost of having a booth at one of these industry conferences, including travel and lodging for team members to properly staff the booth, is pretty daunting.

Startup Alley

There is a way to get in front of potential customers and/or investors at many industry events for a fraction of the cost of a full-blown booth. It goes by several different names depending on the conference, but the most common name is Startup Alley.

Startup Alley is usually a row of long tables, or sometimes a collection of cocktail tables, where startups can set up what is essentially a mini-booth, with a laptop, tablet or other small display. The number of companies that have a presence in Startup Alley is usually 15-20, but that number can grow depending upon the size of the conference.

Beware the Cost of Startup Alley

Startup Alley seems like a great way to get in front of people you need to meet for a relatively small amount of money, but that’s not always the case. The original Startup Alleys, or Demo Pits as they are sometimes called were usually chosen by the conference based on merit. The conference didn’t charge the startups to participate, and it was a way for a fledgling company to make a big move in the industry.

But that isn’t always the case anymore. Many conferences charge hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a spot at the table. And the travel and lodging costs are going to be there, just as if you have a booth. Suddenly a spot in Startup Alley is going to cost you quite a bit of money.

This means you need to do your research and make sure a presence at a particular trade show makes sense. Are your target customers district superintendents? Make sure the show isn’t full of teachers walking around looking for free swag. Are you hoping to meet investors? You better be absolutely sure that the show you are going to is one attended by investors actively looking for deals, or at least looking to start relationships that can turn into deals.

Don’t Be a Repeat Offender pros and cons of startup alley quote

There is an inherent danger that you might not have thought about: the perception that is put out about your company. If you are a brand-new startup, it can help with networking in what may be a new industry to you. But be aware of how many times you display at Startup Alley, especially if your goal is to meet investors. If you’re seen on several Startup Alleys, or at the same one year after year, it shows investors, media, and potential customers that you are small time and aren’t growing. This perception that you are too small to be taken seriously can sink any chance you had to get investor interest, media exposure, or even new customers.