Exhibition Futures Challenge launches to bring “magic” of live events to digital space

The competition’s winning entrant will receive £5,000, plus support to develop the idea alongside industry leaders and the Department for International Trade.

A new design competition has been launched in the UK to find ways of bringing the “magic” of live events into a digital space.

The Exhibition Futures Challenge is a response to the widespread downturn experienced by the live events industry, caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. It notes that, almost overnight in some cases, exhibitions, festivals and talks around the world were wiped from the 2020 calendar.

As the industry looks to both its near and more distant future, the adoption of digital tech and the rethinking of events will be important. With this challenge, organisers Prodigio, an exhibition specialist, and creative media consultancy Crowd say the aim is to put the issue to a wider audience, in the hope one or more ideas can be developed and adopted by those in need in the UK and beyond.

“A springboard for innovation”

“We’re looking at a global issue,” Crowd CEO Jamie Sergeant tells Design Week. “The ideal scenario will obviously be something that can be developed in the UK, but beyond that we’re expecting all sorts of entrants.”

As Sergeant mentions, the winning submission to the Exhibition Futures Challenge will, alongside a £5,000 cash prize, be given the opportunity to develop their idea further. This will be done with the help of the UK government’s Department for International Trade and the GREAT Britain campaign, and various industry partners.

The intention, as Sergeant says, is for this to act as a “springboard for innovation”. It is open to all, but the competition description highlights the opportunity as particularly useful for start-up businesses, who will have the chance to get their ideas in front of industry experts and investors.

Potential ideas

Crucially, Sergeant says, ideas submitted to the competition do not have to focus on replacing entire exhibition events with virtual alternatives. Rather, he expects many entries will focus on particular elements of events that can be digitised, or new ideas that can be both experienced from home and integrated into physical events in the future.

One example he gives is being able to migrate some of the smaller elements of an event online. Another could be a way for “extra content” to be incorporated into the show itself, perhaps by linking up visitors with people elsewhere in the world.

Entrants could even, Sergeant says, take aim at virtual networking: “For many people, the beauty of a live event is being able to meet the right person and the right time – perhaps there’s a way to digitally replicate that somehow while people remain cautious of attending things in person.”

And while helpful in the immediate in dealing with coronavirus and its impacts on the industry, he points out that beyond this, such ideas could help to make operations more sustainable. Good virtual tech, for example, could be helpful in reducing any given events’ airmiles as both staff and attendees would be able to experience it from home in greater numbers instead of travelling.

Competition info

With the aim being to develop solutions for use across the industry, all entries submitted to the competition will be published in a globally distributed white paper. The top five ideas will be presented to investors, and then the favourite will be awarded the money and further development opportunities.

For more information, head to the Exhibition Futures website.

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