Lessons From the Inaugural International UAV Show

International UAV Show drones event tech
As Adam Sax, president and CEO of The Sky Guys, which co-hosted International UAV Show in Toronto in December 2016, says, “Sometimes you have to jump in head first.” That strategy proved effective for his drone services and technology company despite the risks, expense and effort new events pose. Sax shared details about International UAV Show and advice for planners organizing first-time events. Why The drone industry is in its infancy, and Sax says his company saw a need for an international show in Canada. Plus, the event had “ridiculously good” financial opportunities. “The global market for commercial drone applications is $127 billion and continuing to grow rapidly,” says Sax. Who The Toronto UAV show targeted the drone industry and government sector, attracting 25 exhibitors (including Canada-based Avidrone Aerospace, Switzerland-based senseFly and PrecisionHawk of Raleigh, North Carolina) and 600 attendees. What The agenda included indoor drone racing with prize money, drone demos, a student hackathon, and panel discussions on regulatory and insurance issues, as well as industry applications from agriculture to oil and gas to military. Sax deems International UAV Show a success, albeit a learning experience. “It cost us a lot more than we had anticipated; everything took longer than we expected,” he says. A major cause of headaches was the fact that 75 percent of attendees registered only a week in advance of the show. “The hackathon, unfortunately, was not as big of a success,” says Sax, explaining that postsecondary engineering students were busy writing exams and couldn’t attend, pitch startup ideas or network with potential employers. While only 600 attendees showed up (versus the 3,000 anticipated), Sax say vendors were happy. “Our surveys came back saying that the people who attended were serious players in the industry, so quality was strong.” On a positive note, The Sky Guys used the show to announce its new technology subsidiary Defiant Labs and its first drone product, the DX-3. A long-range, fixed-wing drone, the DX-3 has game-changing features including 25-hour flight time. Long-range drones can’t fully be utilized until government regulations around out-of-sight operations change, so organizers were thrilled to use the show to demonstrate the combined clout of private industry and get parties talking. “It helps apply pressure to move regulations faster,” says Sax. International UAV Show also got a lot of press mentions—and leads. “Today alone, we’ve had 30 inquiries about our DX-3,” says Sax. “We’re not doing any marketing, so this is continuous follow-up from the show. That’s unbelievable for a drone that costs almost half a million dollars.” Sax’s advice for others starting a new event? Hire an event professional if you don’t normally run events. A novice himself, he enlisted Vancouver, British Columbia-based Cambridge House International, a company specializing in investment conferences. “They did the majority of the work with respect to logistics, sales, marketing and management,” says Sax. Also, don’t expect to recoup costs with the first show. Sax recommends giving a new event a five- to 10-year plan to be successful. As for UAV’s plan? Sax is already looking ahead to the 2017 Toronto show, with dates expected to be announced soon—and scheduled well before exams.