Rolling the dice in Las Vegas: For technology companies, it’s all about building relationships

Every week Techvibes republishes an article from Business in Vancouver.

This article was originally published in issue #1057 – Jan. 26 – Feb. 1, 2010.

It’s in Las Vegas, and it’s all about technological glitz and glamour.

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is one of the world’s largest technology conventions. This year’s event, staged earlier this month, attracted 2,500 companies and 120,000 industry professionals to the Nevada gambling hub to see and unveil the latest, and often purely conceptual, technological advances.

Much of the limelight this year was stolen by three-dimensional television technologies being debuted by big brands like Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Sony Corp.

And though they couldn’t compete with that kind of star power, at least 18 B.C. companies also used the convention to either show off their technology or get rare face time with Silicon Valley executives.

B.C.’s presence at this year’s CES was one of the province’s largest in the show’s 42-year history, thanks in part to a Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission (COEDC) and BC Innovation Council initiative.

The two organizations led a junket of six companies in Metabridge, an initiative designed to connect B.C. companies to businesses in other technology sectors around the world.

“If B.C. companies are going to thrive, they won’t do it by simply speaking to each other within B.C.,” said Robert Fine, COEDC’s executive director. “They need to look at the well-established technology centres – obviously the Silicon Valley being one of the key areas for us.”

Metabridge hosted trade booths for companies like Kelowna’s RackForce Networks and Vancouver’s Strutta Media Inc. and Optemo Technologies Inc.

The president of McAfee Inc., an executive vice-president of Symantec Corp. and a vice-president of AT&T’s Wi-Fi division were among 200 attendees at a party hosted by Metabridge.

Employees from roughly 18 B.C. companies were at the party to court executives for everything from advisory directorships to joint ventures.

Steve Wandler, a technology entrepreneur from the Okanagan who organized Metabridge, knows the importance of meeting the right people.

“Everybody who wants to meet anybody comes to CES,” said Wandler, who has attended the show for the last five years.

Three years ago, Wandler was running, a company he founded in 2000, when he bumped into executives of Silicon Valley-based SupportSoft Inc. (Nasdaq:SPRT) during a CES event.

Two years later, SupportSoft acquired for an undisclosed sum.

To Wandler, the chance meeting with SupportSoft and the resulting acquisition illustrate the importance of attending conventions to build relationships.

“You can have a mediocre idea and good relationships and get it done,” said Wandler. “Or you can have a really good idea and lousy relationships and never get it done.”

At least three B.C. companies used CES to debut new technologies.

Sierra Wireless’ share price rose 4% in the days before CES as investors anticipated Sierra would make a major announcement at the show. They were right: Sierra’s share price (TSX:SW; Nasdaq:SWIR) made further single-percentage gains after the company unveiled its fourth-generation (4G) wireless router. The device can connect up to five users to the Internet and will be marketed by Sprint.

Burnaby’s Icron Technologies (TSX-V:IT) debuted two new products at CES, including a USB device that wirelessly connects computers to televisions.

Brian Donnelly, Icron’s vice-president of marketing and business development, said the company’s primary purpose in attending the show was to promote its new USB products not only to potential customers, but also potential manufacturers.

“It’s critical for our company, and I believe any company, to be in front of customers and prospects to not just introduce product, but to develop new products – to research the market and find out what direction to take your product line and technology,” said Donnelly.

Absolute Software Corp. (TSX:ABT) sent 25 employees to Las Vegas and launched a new partnership with Intel that sees the two companies combine their software to create a new anti-theft and data recovery and protection software for consumer laptops.

Stephen Midgley, Absolute’s vice-president of global marketing, said the company’s most important engagements at CES are with partners that can potentially embed Absolute’s software in their devices.

“So a lot of the activity for us happens not on the show floor, but off the show floor, meeting with key partners like Dell, HP, Panasonic [and] Fujitsu.”

Other Metabridge junkets are being planned for Silicon Valley, Kelowna and likely Silicon Valley again (Las Vegas was the third Metabridge tour, following Metabridge Kelowna and Metabridge Palo Alto).

Wandler, whose connections in Silicon Valley helped contribute to the 200-strong attendance at the Metabridge Las Vegas party, is forming another technology company.

He still lives in B.C., but his startup is located in the valley. “I still think you can live in Canada and have an office in Canada, but you have to have a presence in the valley – you need to spend time there, you can’t do it over the phone, you can’t do it at a networking event in Vancouver.”