StartU’s Review of CES 2019: The Largest Startup Event on the PlanetBy Dan Eidell
Dubbed “The Largest Startup Event on the Planet,” the Consumer Electronics Show (“CES”) took place in Las Vegas from January 8-11, 2019. StartU Midwest Scout Dan Eidell was in attendance, taking in the environment for exhibitors and attendees alike.
A Global Powerhouse
Each January, thousands of companies and almost 200,000 attendees descend on Las Vegas for the week-long convention showcasing consumer technology. Attendees choose from 40 conference tracks as they spend their week between three campuses that consist of over 2.9 million square feet and span nine iconic resorts and the Las Vegas Conference Center. Presenters, meanwhile, are organized into 25 different product categories and 24 marketplaces that group new or up-and-coming technology. By any measure, CES’s size is daunting.
Billed as “the world’s gathering place for all who thrive on the business of consumer technologies,” CES is a hotbed for innovation by global leaders and nascent startups alike. Since its inception over 50 years ago, companies have launched over 700,000 products at CES – everything from CDs and HDTV in the 1980s and 1990s through today’s artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and other smart technology. This year was no different, as attendees from 155 countries gathered to glimpse of the future.
The Startup Landscape
While household names have the largest, most intricate exhibits (this year’s examples include Google’s AI-based ride and supersized gumball machine and Bell’s prototype flying taxi shown below) startups of all stages were showcased around every corner.
In addition to companies like John Deere and Segway, for example, the AI and Robotics portion of the conference featured several startups introducing consumers to new technology. Two manufacturers – Rover Speed and ForwardX – wowed travelers with AI-driven suitcases designed to follow their owners through airports. Rover Speed’s product still struggles to navigate itself when obstacles are in its desired path, and ForwardX did not offer trials of its product for parts of the week, but the promise of a smart suitcase that is competitively priced (Rover Speed’s suitcases sell for just under $500, while Forward X’s sleeker ones are $800) will entice many travelers in the years to come.
By virtue of location, these and other startups had the opportunity to connect with a set of attendees with interests and expertise extending beyond the startup ecosystem. CES boasts a separate area for those exhibitors and attendees with more specific interests.
Eureka! (Park, that is…)
For many, the crown jewel of CES is Eureka Park – a dedicated area that has grown to host over 900 startups annually. Since its creation in 2012, companies represented there have raised over $1.5 billion. Like the rest of the conference, the area maintains a global flavor; dozens of countries from around the world, including innovation hotspots like Israel and Singapore, have dedicated areas to showcase their own version of “the next big thing.”
CES’ Innovation Awards honor the companies that demonstrate exceptional design and engineering. Nuraphone’s hearing-adaptive headphones, available here, were one product to win such a distinction. Recently dubbed “the last headphones you should ever buy,” these over- or in-ear headphones use a short (under two minute) series of tones to tune themselves to the vibrations of a person’s ears. Then, based on that individual hearing profile, the bass, mid, and treble are fine-tuned to ensure that users hear music like never before.
Festiie is another company attempting to change how we experience music. Whether at a festival, concert, sporting event, or some other set of circumstances, most can relate to the chaos of trying to find friends or family when cell phones fail. At these mass events, cell disruption is all too common. Festiie (soon to be available for pre-order on IndieGoGo) uses radio technology and an easy watch-like interface to solve the problem. Their innovative use of the same technology that powers walkie-talkies has the potential to change group dynamic and make the classic “Where are you?” text obsolete.
These are only a few of the thousand-plus companies that Eureka Park had to offer. Perhaps not surprisingly, at least three others were present were previously profiled by StartU. Mira Reality (October, 2018), for example, was one of several augmented reality startups offering demos of its industry-defying headsets.
Meanwhile, Atolla Skin Lab (April, 2018) was represented by Sid Salvi, who spent the week describing the company’s mission to change how the cosmetics industry operates and better serve consumers. Throughout the week, attendees learned about the company’s mission to create a world in which “skincare is made for the individuals.” Atolla’s demonstration included product demos (for example, the swabs used to determine the oiliness of a person’s skin) and an explanation of how its offerings would use user-generated feedback to improve their individualization efforts over time.
Finally, Embr Labs (December 2018) real-time demos of its wearable, personalized heating and cooling bracelet. Curious consumers stepped up to the booth to evaluate the aesthetics of the product and, more importantly, whether it could deliver on its mission to alter how they were feeling. Few, if any, left disappointed, as one after another felt the desired temperature change transition from being localized (i.e., a spot on their wrist) to encompassing their full body. On days that regularly required attendees to walk 10 to 15 miles or more, this sudden burst of cool was a welcome treat.
To 2020, and Beyond
Before and during CES, many wrote that 2019’s iteration of the show would feature more incremental innovation than it would breakthrough technology. Even so, these and countless others of the thousand-plus startups present captured the attention of attendees and promise to affect our lives for years to come. Next year’s event will take place from January 7-10, 2020.