The nation’s largest trade show, the International CES, kicks off in Las Vegas this week, drawing thousands of attendees and exhibitors peddling everything from smartphones to kitchen appliances to electric cars.
The gadget pageant has expanded its focus significantly in recent years. It’s now divided into more than two dozen “TechZones” with products geared toward moms, kids, homeowners, gamers, environmentalists, educators, fitness nuts and medical professionals.
The Arlington-based Consumer Electronics Association, which orchestrates the annual event, even swapped its long-held moniker, the Consumer Electronics Show, for the more amorphous International CES.
“We’ve successfully positioned ourselves as the innovation event for the year, so we have a diverse set of industries represented,” said Gary Shapiro, the association’s president. “Consumer electronics does not begin to describe what’s at the show, frankly.”
Shapiro said exhibitors have leased a record 1.9 million net square feet of floor space. That’s full capacity until the association can take over another convention center in 2015, he said.
CEA has put greater emphasis on entrepreneurs in the past two years, part of an effort to give the show longevity and relevance in an industry that’s increasingly shaped by small players who punch above their weight.
McLean-based TroopID will display the service it started in November that helps retailers verify military personnel and veterans for discounts at a booth in the show’s exhibit for start-up ventures called Eureka Park.
TroopID’s founder and chief executive Blake Hall won the slot at a business pitch competition in November, but had not heard of CES before that.
“I talked to a few of our investors, especially folks who had been out there before, and I realized this is a good opportunity to network in one week with folks and showcase our technology,” Hall said.
Executives at Hillcrest Labs in Rockville will travel to CES this week as they’ve done for at least the past 10 years. The company reserves a hotel suite where they host 50 to 70 meetings with potential partners.
“It’s just a nice, concentrated event where we can be in front of a lot of people and let them know what we’re going to be doing in the coming year,” said Chad Lucien, senior vice president for sales and marketing.
Hillcrest Labs makes a motion control technology called “Freespace” for television remotes and smartphones that detects a person’s hand movement. The company met their first major partner, LG, at CES several years ago and Lucien said the show’s ever-expanding focus creates even more opportunities.
“It makes for a more interesting venue, and when you’re a company like us with enabling technology, you can expand into other market places,” Lucien said.
Other local companies in attendance will include language software creator Rosetta Stone, radio technology firm iBiquity Digital, automaker Audi of America and electronic deadbolt company SimpliciKey, among others.
But as the association and its flagship program continue to encompass new industries, some say it diverts focus in too many directions.
“As they have grown, they have divided into so many subsections that you get less attention,” said Richard Taylor, chief marketing officer at Echo360, a classroom technology company in Dulles.
Echo360 made the trek to Las Vegas last year for the higher education technology portion of CES, one of 150 events the company attended. Taylor said the firm is paring that number back to 60 this year, and CES didn’t make the cut.
“CES is huge obviously, but when you get down to the education portion, you get people that dribble in and out, but there wasn’t a lot of foot traffic,” Taylor said. “We didn’t meet a lot of new clients and we didn’t see a lot of our existing clients.”
Though Shapiro said the number of total exhibitors is up compared with last year, the number of registered local exhibitors is down. Fifty-one companies from Maryland, Virginia and the District are listed in the show’s online directory this year, down from 59 last year, the trade association said.
“Companies are always coming in and going out, depending on their various needs and products,” Shapiro said. “We’ve had companies drop out at the last minute ... but there’s always people on the waiting list to take their place.”
Companies from Maryland, the District and Virginia that will exhibit at the 2013 CES, according to the show’s directory, down from 59 in 2012.