The pandemic has wreaked havoc on online conferences, events, and forums throughout the tech community. While some events were canceled in 2020, many more were pushed back and converted to an entirely online format. In some cases, such as the Consumer Electronics Show, this online medium signaled a temporary departure from the norm, with plans to return to a physical conference already announced and scheduled for 2022. Other forums, such as CTO Connection, have used the pandemic as an opportunity to reinvent the way they disseminate information, with keynote speakers delivering online addresses throughout the year.
Event organizers are watching closely as Pfizer and Moderna are the first to distribute their respective COVID vaccines, with the former scheduled to deliver up to six million doses by mid-December 2020. Several conferences, notably SaaS Growth, TechCrunch Disrupt, and CTO Connection, have not announced plans for 2021 events. This does not imply they won’t happen; instead, this silence indicates organizers are hopeful for an end to the global pandemic and a return to in-person events.
The key startup events in 2021
The following paragraphs summarize the most up-to-date information available for these cornerstone tech conferences. You’ll also find links to source sites where each organization will publish further details about their respective events as they are released.
CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW (CES) — January 11–14, 2021
The Consumer Electronics Show has provided a platform to showcase innovative technologies for more than fifty years. Due to the ongoing risk posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, CES 2021 will be an all-digital experience rather than an in-person conference for the first time in its history. Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), promises a “new immersive experience, where attendees will have a front-row seat to discover and see the latest technology.”
The CTA believes that CES 2021 will be an outlier in their standard format rather than a permanent transition. CES 2022 is tentatively planned for a physical conference in Las Vegas in January 2022.
STARTUP GRIND GLOBAL CONFERENCE — February 22–25, 2021
The annual Startup Grind Global Conference will look a bit different in 2021. The four-day entrepreneurial conference will be exclusively virtual, with sessions hosted in various time zones to facilitate global participation. This conference is designed to facilitate interaction between startups and investors, so live chat and networking rooms will be available to meet with potential venture capitalists.
Access will be straightforward: you may enter or exit any event in this startup conference during its scheduled hours, and recordings of all sessions will be available afterward. Live keynote addresses are planned around the clock to facilitate live viewing from around the world, making this startup event easy to attend.
FINOVATE EUROPE — March 23–25, 2021
Wanting to avoid being “just another webinar,” FinovateEurope has created a platform to enable conference attendees the closest possible experience to a live event. Two weeks before the event, registrants will receive a link to the digital platform, allowing them to set up their profile to facilitate subsequent networking. Attendees will see a roster of everyone else who is attending and may reach out to begin scheduling meetings. The networking portion of the platform will allow one-on-one discussions or private group chats.
The event itself will run live on a published schedule and remain available for a full week following the live event’s conclusion. All platform networking functions will remain accessible and functional, permitting follow-up or even new introductions after the conference has concluded. This feature is particularly useful as a key startup networking event.
ADOBE SUMMIT — March 14–18, 2021
The Adobe Summit 2021 will be an exclusively online event, although the conference’s specifics are still being developed. Summit planners promise that the event will “include keynotes, breakout sessions, and labs.” Registration will open in early 2021; to stay abreast of the final agenda and any developments, subscribe to Summit’s mailing list or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.
SXSW CONFERENCE — March 16–20, 2021
To some degree, SXSW 2021 is still evolving, although an exclusively digital event has been planned for March 2021. This conference will include conference speakers, mentor sessions, online exhibitions, and networking meetups, in addition to multiple other events.
South By Southwest (SXSW) event planners are working with the city of Austin to develop a live event later in 2021, although neither detailed plans nor dates for that have been announced.
EMPIRE FINTECH CONFERENCE — April 13, 2021
The 2021 Empire FinTech conference is scheduled to be a live event, with more than 600 participants in attendance. This event will feature keynote speakers, networking events, debates, and live podcasts. Several panels will host leaders from across the financial realm, followed by demonstrations from some of the hottest startups in fintech. Empire Startup’s one-day event will be packed with opportunities to learn, interact, and network with peers and leaders in the industry. This tech startup conference is one you won’t want to miss.
GROWTH HACKERS CONFERENCE — June 3, 2021
The 2020 Growth Hackers Conference was held at the beginning of September in an entirely virtual forum. With twenty keynote addresses from growth leaders in numerous industries, the event lends itself well to an entirely online format. Plans have not been released for 2021’s conference, but it has been tentatively scheduled for June 3rd.
SAASTR EUROPA 2021 — June 17–18, 2021
SaaStr Europa 2021 is tentatively scheduled for a two-day in-person event in Paris. The event will be small, limited to ten exhibitors and 100 visitors. Details are limited; the main conference website is still centered around the canceled 2020 event, and event organizers have not published any further information. However, they plan to release more information within the next several months.
SAASTR ANNUAL — September 28–29, 2021
As one of the world’s largest B2B software conferences in the world, SaaStr Annual is a cornerstone event in the technology community. Few details about 2021’s conference have been released to the public, although it appears that the event will occur in an in-person forum. The best way to stay updated is to sign up for a reserved seat (at no cost) on their website, where updated information will be disseminated via email.
SAAS GROWTH — Date TBD
No public plans for the 2021 SaaS Growth Conference have been released. As the top B2B sales leadership conference in Europe, this central event will undoubtedly occur next year, although it remains to be seen whether it is hosted in a physical or digital medium. The 2020 event occurred online, although the potential for global COVID vaccination before next summer indicates that an in-person conference is a distinct possibility.
Continue to track the official SaaS Growth site for updated information.
TECHCRUNCH DISRUPT — Date TBD
A packed conference spread over five days, TechCrunch Disrupt 2020 was hosted entirely online due to the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. This event is one of the world’s leading forums for innovative startups to reveal new technologies and hear from trailblazers across the tech industry. No plans for the 2021 conference have been announced.
CTO CONNECTION — Date TBD
This conference is focused on building “the premier community for senior engineering leaders.” Aimed at promoting both technical understanding and senior leadership networking, this essential conference is a cornerstone for the engineering community.
No plans have been announced for a 2021 event, whether in-person or virtual, although CTO Connection has created an ongoing series of online events throughout the year to facilitate education and interaction. When CTO Connection 2021 is announced, details about it will be published on the page linked above.
The future of tech conferences
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the tech industry to adapt in ways it had never experienced before. Undoubtedly, the repercussions of 2020 will have long-term effects, although there is every reason to believe that these will be good in many ways. Experimenting with online networking, from passive attendance at keynote addresses to active venture capital fundraising interactions, has shown conference organizers many things that could be delivered more appropriately in a virtual medium. At the same time, it has confirmed which activities will always be better in-person. Expect subsequent conferences to feature hybrid interactions, mixing physical interactions with virtual communication to achieve the best of both worlds.