Hopin and HeySummit are helping conference plans to stay on track despite the global pandemic. Could this new way of attending events be here to stay?

Jonnny Boufarhat was stuck at home, ill, when he dreamt-up the idea for Hopin, a ‘virtual conference’ business.

Two years on, an idea which already had obvious merits (lower carbon footprint, less time consuming etc), has come into its own, albeit in the most unimaginably dire of circumstances.

Like Zoom and Joe Wicks, Hopin has joined the lockdown lexicon. With everyone forced to stay at home, large gatherings banned and international travel off the cards, the vast global events industry, like so many others, has been thrown into disarray.

Organisers of events ranging from corporate summits to smaller regional networking sessions, have had no option but to cancel or to search out options for running them virtually.

This week, the concept will be tested in the construction sector, when the Forum for the Built Environment, in collaboration with TechSPARK, a not-for-profit network, holds its ‘Technology in Construction’ event virtually.

The event, hosted on Hopin, will include a panel discussion, followed by one-to-one ‘speed networking.’ PCSG’s Mark Stodgell, a Senior Consultant who specialises in helping retail organisations to leverage full value from their property data, will be a guest speaker.

Like all sectors, construction and infrastructure has a big events scene. The corporate calendar is dotted with events ranging from big awards ceremonies and major ‘must-attends’ like October’s Digital Construction Week and Building Live to smaller regional panel and networking days.

The events play an important role in providing a platform for ideas to be shared and for clients and suppliers to get together. They also provide a prompt for networking and informal meet-ups which might not otherwise happen.

Sustainable Summits

Hopin is not the space’s sole provider – others include HeySummit and Run the World.

The growing demand for sustainable working practices and carbon footprint reduction, had already prompted significant interest in these disruptors prior to the arrival of the pandemic.

The business meetings and events industry contributes £31 billion to the economy and supports companies ranging from contract caterers to accommodation providers – but at a cost to the environment.

HeySummit promotes its service as “carbon neutral conferencing” while Hopin’s mission – published before the arrival of Coronavirus – was to tackle two of the biggest problems of the billion pound events industry – environmental damage and inaccessibility.

The potential was quickly spotted by investors: Hopin raised $6.5 million last year from investors including Accel and Seedcamp.

Unlike Zoom, Hopin supports vast numbers of participants – up to 100,000 users at once today with plans to increase that to 1m later this year. It has a “stage” and online meeting rooms.

The organisation and its investors are betting on long-term behavioural change.

Boufahart, who graduated in Engineering, has been quoted saying that his model enables people to do “90 per cent” of what they would do at a conference in person and “another 10 per cent is better” – that you can switch from dull conversations in a way that would be considered impolite in person.

The organisers of this week’s ‘Technology in Construction’ event said that their experience of Hopin was that “it allows seamless transfer from panel discussion/lecturing, Q&A’s and voting to networking.”

Hosting it virtually had also made the event far more accessible too, they said, with attendee numbers for Thursday standing at four times the number of the ‘physical’ monthly events.

As an innovative technology company, PCSG is really interested in this new way of holding events. We’ll be reviewing Thursday’s event and giving our view of  what works and what could be improved on. Look out for our post-event write-up!

For more information on how we help big retailers and other large estates owners to develop a digital strategy for their property information – one which enables them to quickly and easily locate reliable, current information about their assets – please contact Mark.Stodgell@pcsg.co.uk