“We want participants to feel like they belong to a large family”

Startup Nights by Entrepreneur Club Winterthur goes big this year. From November 3-4, 2022, the event has set an ambitious goal to bring 5000 visitors to Winterthur to celebrate entrepreneurship, gather inspiration, and network with ecosystem players. We talked to Raphael Tobler, founder of the ECW and initiator of the event, to tell us how his team plans to reach his goal and its concrete value for the startups.

There are currently many startup events in the ecosystem; why do we need another one?
I agree there are many events; however, unlike many, we provide a casual event where startups, students, investors and aspiring entrepreneurs can come and feel at ease as they meet, interact, and network. We want participants to feel like they belong to a large family.

How will you ensure that the event brings value to the attendees?
We organised the Startup Nights in such a way that each attendee finds what they are looking for: knowledge through the workshops, inspiration through panel discussions and keynotes with thriving and established startups and ecosystem players, and new connections. We have brought up to 1300 visitors together, and so far, the feedback we receive is intriguing. Besides the atmosphere, we have enabled startups to find customers, new team members or investors. We now want to build on this success and add more value to the community. That is why we have set an ambitious goal to get 5000 people to Winterthur, including participants from our neighbouring countries – mainly Germany and Austria.

Will the event be in German like the previous years?
No. For the first time, we are hosting the event in English for our non-German speakers coming from other Swiss regions.

How can startups present themselves better at the event?
In addition to workshops, keynote speeches and panels, we will enable 1:1 meetings for which participants can book a session through the event app. Startups also have the opportunity to showcase their solutions. This year we have the capacity for 200 startup booths. We are also hosting the Startup Pitching competition, but this time startups will pitch in different verticals to ensure that the jury and industry experts deliver feedback based on their industry expertise. Startups interested in participating can submit their application from July until the end of September 2022.

What do you do to help them in the preparation?
We are organising a pre-event founders’ gala dinner in September with up to 200 people. Also, some pre-events to brief the startups on how best to network and attract investors, customers and employees. A month following the event, we will organise a post-event meet-up to enable startups to once again meet and strengthen their connection with the investors they met at the event. This will ensure building stronger relationships.

How will you manage 5000 people?
Firstly, we have a new location to host all our visitors and secondly we have a motivated team, working voluntarily. We have, additionally, a supporting ecosystem of over 50 partners helping us financially and with organising the event. We collaborate with different organisations such as Swisspreneur Podcast, ETH Entrepreneur Club, the Canton of Zurich, the City of Winterthur and the Swiss Startup Association. We are also collaborating with institutes such as ZHAW and ETH Zurich. As this is a national event, we are in advanced discussions with the EPFL to support us in promoting the event in the Romandie.

You stretched the event to two days – is this necessary?
We have learned from the past that participants get overwhelmed with the activities in the program at such a large event. Without compromising on quality and variability, we have designed a rich program with activities spaced out enough such that there is sufficient time to absorb the content while leaving adequate time for attendees to mingle.

Do you have special guests attending the event?
Yes and no. We deliberately do not have any special guests. No matter how successful a startup or entrepreneur is, we want everyone to be on the same level. That's why all founders are special guests, so to speak.

Participation in the past events was free of charge. Is it free this year as well?
Collecting fees from startups has never been a significant aspect of the event because many of them are still in the early stage and thus lack the funds. We instead wish for them to spend it on other essential activities like product building. This year, participation is not free, but we have kept the prices very low. We charge between CHF 10 and CHF 100 for participation, and the booth costs range between CHF 150 and CHF 300. We already have over 700 pre-registrations for the event.

Are the ticket sales sufficient to cover the costs?
No, besides the rather small ticket revenue that just covers food costs, we rely on strong partners from the ecosystem such as UBS or Noser Engineering. With that, we are well-positioned to provide attendees with the best experience over two days.

Is the event entirely physical?
Yes, 99% will be onsite. Only the 1:1 meetings will be scheduled through the app. The meetings themselves will take place at the venue.

(Ritah Ayebare Nyakato)