In Eureka Park, start-ups get a slice of CES

January 9, 2012

This year, the International Consumer Electronics Show isn’t just for big-wigs like Google and Qualcomm.

For the first time, CES will feature a special area, or “TechZone,” just for start-ups that are first-time exhibitors. Consisting of 100 early-stage companies, the so-called “Eureka Park” will showcase everything from freshly launched Web apps to gloves that can translate American Sign Language into written text.

The area will be located in the Venetian Hotel — the site of several of the CES award ceremonies — which puts participants well within elbow-brushing distance of larger companies, which many start-ups see as prospective business partners. In addition, the exhibit provides exposure to the hoards of technology press and gadget enthusiasts at a dramatically lower price than other attendees pay. CES is charging Eureka Park participants $1,000 for a standard booth, about 20 percent of the typical cost.

“It’s important that companies come here with an idea, show it off and grow themselves as a company,” said Karen Chupka, vice president of events for the Consumer Electronics Association. “Secondly, with the economy the way it is — we wanted to give those companies a chance to get their big break.”

Chupka said many of the Eureka Park products involve robotics, environmentally friendly technologies and audio innovations. The National Science Foundation has given grants to 28 of the exhibitors, including an array of energy-saving and digital-health gadgets.

But Web applications, that mainstay of the start-up world, will also be out in force. Victor Karkar, chief executive of a Web-page annotation service called Scrible, said he hopes CES will give him a chance to interact with prospective corporate customers, get press mentions and meet PC makers that could serve as distributors down the line.

“Being consumer-oriented, we need to get press and awareness,” said Karkar, who launched Scrible in May and has received NSF funding. “We’re small and scrappy, and we think this is going be a big year for us.”

To draw people in, Karkar said he plans to stock his booth with champagne and chocolates and to roam around with an iPad so that attendees can try out the service. (Scrible is a free bookmarklet that allows users to make notes directly on Web pages and save them in online files.) His current worry is that the WiFi signal in the Venetian won’t be strong enough to support the flood of Web entrepreneurs demo-ing their products.

“There’s a lot of noise out there, and it’s very hard because we’re a small company,” he said. “But reading Web content is a top activity that people do on tablets, and we think a lot of people will find this interesting.”

Josh Brooks, CEO of Postcard On The Run, said the lower Eureka Park price made all the difference to his company, which is a service that turns smart-phone photos into physical postcards and mails them. The start-up just raised $750,000 in angel funding, but its budget is tight compared to some of CES’s larger players.

“A start-up guy always has to be cost-conscious,” he said. “Traditional marketing that some companies might spend tens of thousands on, that’s not in my range.”

In order to get noticed at the show, Brooks will be giving away free postcard credits so that CES attendees can send loved ones some physical mementos of all the tech wizardry and Las Vegas sights.

And like many others in the start-up community, Brooks said he sees Eureka Park as somewhat of a launchpad, hoping it serves as a potential avenue for meeting major partners.

“My goal is to pitch the concept of how this product helps accentuate all the fantastic cameras, memory and editing tools that the carriers have created,” he said. “I’m looking for Mr. Samsung and Mr. HTC to come shake my hand.”

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