TechCrunch Disrupt, held annually in San Francisco, is teeming with startup founders and influencers. As an Economic Development Organization (EDO) interested in attracting startups to our region, we wanted to get their attention – but so did every other EDO. 

How could we stand out?

Economic developers have a few core options for achieving their goal, which is to bring economic growth the regions that they represent. The most prominent method: Try to convince large companies to expand or relocate to the region, thus bringing with them a nice package of ‘jobs’ and economic opportunity.

Or, they can play the long game: Attract hundreds of smaller startups to the region, with the anticipation that a couple of them (or even one) will grow at a phenomenal rate and thereby bring more jobs and economic growth the ‘lure the big company’ approach.

Typical Scene at TechCrunch Disrupt

In the Sacramento region, the Greater Sacramento Economic Council GSEC) has taken a mixed approach – but when targeting the Bay Area, there is a particular emphasis on attracting startups.

In my role at GSEC, heading marketing, I found TechCrunch Disrupt to be ripe with opportunity: It is a playground for promising startups from across the world. Some of the biggest names in tech today have participated, including like Mint, Dropbox, Yammer, Tripit, Redbeacon, Qwiki, Getaround, and Soluto. In aggregate, as of February 2017, participating startups have raised $6.9 billion – and 95 have been acquired or have gone public.

Naturally, I’m not alone. EDOs and similar representatives from St. Louis, Pheonix, Taipei, Czech Republic, and were set to participate in the September 2017 event in San Francisco.

This is How Other EDOs Presented Themselves - Not Very Impressive

Our goal

At TechCrunch Disrupt, we wanted to generate a list of warm leads – startup founders or others in the C-suite who may have an interest in moving their business to the Greater Sacramento region. Not only did we want to get their business cards, we wanted to warm them up with the story of transformative growth in the Sacramento region.

We wanted to share with them not only a cost-comparison message, but emphasize the vibrant lifestyle in the region – a vibrant urban core with space to breathe, without losing access to the Bay Area (90 minutes away) or, for the adventure-seeker, Tahoe (90 minutes).

Our message: Extend your runway in Greater Sacramento

Our campaign theme centered around the ‘runway’ available to startups. The term ‘Runway’ refers to the amount of time that a startup has before they need to either become profitable, receive more funding or go out business.

Our value proposition was simple: Startups needn’t relocate to another low-cost state to reduce their overhead. Besides, doing so would cause them to lose their connection to valuable technology talent and venture capital in the Bay Area.

Out Core Value Proposition

Instead, startups can extend their runway by relocating to the Greater Sacramento region. In this region, overhead is significantly lower, but access to the Bay Area, and to California’s innovation ecosystem, remain intact. Not only is office space less expensive, but salaries are lower too – and because the cost of living is lower, employees can actually enjoy higher spending power despite their lower salaries.

As a TechCrunch contributor Andrew Gazdecki so aptly put it:

“Moving (away from the Bay Area) can instantly increase your runway”

Andrew Gazdecki

We created a full set of campaign materials and videos to accompany this campaign in its digital form. To bring this campaign to life at the TechCrunch Disrupt event, we had to start thinking about what startup founders /really/ want.

How we convinced 57 companies to line up at our booth to connect with our team

To get what we want (more leads), we needed to think deeply about what would attract startup founders to engage with us at our booth. So what does a startup founder want?

Funding. Surely, there are other things that a startup requires, but funding is generally towards the top of the list. If we could find a way to help founders connect with funding sources, we could generate engagement.

So developed our plan: Provide a platform at our booth that connects startups founders with the Venture Capital (VC) community in the Sacramento region.

We spoke with VCs in the Sacramento region. They had an inherent interest in identifying promising startups to invest in, so they were fairly easy to bring onboard.

From there, we developed a video platform that would allow startup founders to film short, elevator-pitch style videos that our organization would then send to the Sacramento VC community for investment consideration.

Activation Highlight Reel

These videos would also be posted online, shared through social media, and sent to the founders themselves. Additionally, our business development team would follow-up with the founders to discuss the potential of relocating to the Sacramento region.

What were the results?

Combined with onsite marketing and flyer distribution at the TechCrunch Disrupt exhibition, momentum quickly developed for the campaign. Our signups to schedule video pitch sessions, managed through an iPad app, quickly accelerated.

Our Booth at TechCrunch Disrupt

By Day 2 of the event, space was very limited. Founders were showing up well ahead of their scheduled sessions to make sure they didn’t miss their opportunity. Others lined up in a waiting list in hopes that there would be a cancellation.

By the end of the 3-day event, we had collected an excellent set ot leads from some of the most promising startups in the Bay Area.

These weren’t loosely qualified leads – they were highly qualified leads who had already been warmed-up to the idea of locating to the Sacramento region. To engage with this number of organizations in such a short time is far more than could be expected without a creative approach. Indeed, when we explored the booths of the other EDOs that participated in the event we found very little (if any) engagement. Most were completely empty. It was a stark difference.

Through the success of this project, the Greater Sacramento Economic Council is considering the purchase of a booth of this nature to use in future events.

A Sample of the Leads Generated from the Activation

I’d like to thank PorterCo, an incredible Sacramento-based agency, who provided irreplaceable management and above-and-beyond support to delivering this campaign