We’ve returned from BIO Europe 2012 in Hamburg with a stack of business cards, pages of meeting notes, prioritized follow ups, and some great memories. We managed to completely fill our calendar with meetings with companies from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North America. On behalf of our clients, we are pleased with the result, and are looking forward to the follow up over the coming weeks.
Was BIO Europe 2012 a success? From a one-on-one meeting perspective, it certainly was. But we believe there was a valuable additional success which came from the meeting opportunities that took place outside the one-on-one meetings.
Going through our business cards, we were surprised at the number which came from informal meetings in the hallways and the evening receptions. Eyeballing the two stacks, I’d say the cards from outside the one-on-one meetings represent ~ 30-40% of the total stack. Looking back at our meeting data from the most recent BIO Convention in Boston, I’d say the “social” business cards were 10-20% of the total stack.
I think this is an indicator of why BIO Europe is the perfect size for a global business development networking conference. With ~3,000 attendees, it’s still possible to have a number of social networking opportunities interspersed between the one-on-one meetings.
The Monday and Tuesday evening receptions, while a great deal of fun, are also terrific supplemental networking opportunities that simply can’t happen in a conference with 10,000 attendees.
Think of it this way. On the Tuesday night during BIO (or AAPS, for that matter), there are probably a dozen or so private and semi-private receptions taking place. How many will attend the one reception that you attend? 30? 50? 100? Let’s suppose you perform the Tuesday Night Trifecta and attend three events on the Tuesday night. How many people can you possibly meet? More importantly, how many will you miss?
I also found myself connecting with people at these receptions using Twitter on my phone. Given that everyone was in a single (albeit large) room with only 2-3 obvious meeting areas, it was relatively simple to quickly find fellow Twitterati and meet them in a room of thousands. This becomes difficult in a mega conference with social events spread out across an entire major city.
It’s obvious that transporting everyone to a big party with free food and drink will lead to socialization and networking. But it’s something that’s either not possible because the conference is too large, or not possible because the conference lacks a central focal point for socialization. (Convincing a major sponsor to participate in a social function like this is another challenge, of course). With BIO Europe, the ~3,000 total attendees makes it possible and beneficial to have these after hours networking opportunities.
Last year, Lacerta Bio attended a different conference with ~800 attendees. The sponsors decided to charge extra for attendance at the evening dinner and reception. Transportation back to the hotels was not provided. The result was poor dinner attendance, with a subsequent opportunity cost of lost socialization and networking opportunities.
I think another advantage for BIO Europe is the smaller size of the Exhibition. From our perspective, we want to meet Senior Level executives at pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. We rarely, if ever, need to meet with any of the Exhibitors. So having a lower concentration of Exhibitors is an additional benefit, at least from our perspective. I’m sure others will differ on this point.
So is BIO Europe “better” than BIO and other mega-conferences? Should we all skip BIO and JP Morgan?
No, that’s not what we are saying. Certainly having 10,000 industry executives in one place has many advantages, especially when it comes to finding one-on-one meeting opportunities. Not only does BIO have the advantage of size, but BIO has the advantage of having incredible participation from US companies, both large and small. There is no other conference that provides this breadth of access in the US. So from a business development perspective, BIO will continue to be a mandatory conference.
If anything, we’ve concluded that both BIO and BIO Europe are critical conferences from a business development and licensing perspective. We would also include JP Morgan in that, but that has its own unique challenges. We’ll take our experiences into account as we plan our conference & travel activities for 2013.
So does size matter? Yes, we believe it does. There appears to be a critical mass of conference size in which it’s possible to have a breadth of one-on-one meeting opportunities and after-hours, concentrated networking and social functions. If the conference is too small, then the one-on-one networking will be limited. If the conference is too large, the one-on-one networking will likely be excellent, at the expense of the invaluable evening networking opportunities.
This is also why attending multiple conferences is so important. There is no single conference that satisfies all needs. However, having attended a number of these over the past 10+ years, we now have a much deeper appreciation for how to select which conferences to attend, as well as how to plan and participate in these conferences in the future.