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Technology Summit reflections

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5 April 2024 | Siân Williams

Siân Williams, CENSIS’s Marketing and Communications Manager, looks back at the foundations – and growth of – CENSIS’s annual conference, the Technology Summit.

It’s Tech Summit time. Wait, you thought that was November? Well. you’re technically correct, but here at CENSIS, it’s pretty much Tech Summit time all year round. As soon as one ends, planning for the next one begins.

The conference has not always been such a major event in our calendar. In 2014, the year after CENSIS launched, our entire team including all our exhibition kit arrived for the first Tech Summit in just two taxis. We set up an hour beforehand and had 90 delegates. But as CENSIS’s reputation as an innovation leader grew, so did the Summit. Over the years, we added things that are now event staples – exhibition space, a networking reception, a fuller agenda, even a research poster competition. We outgrew several venues as interest increased.

It’s hard to look back on the 2014 Summit and compare it with what we offer today. Ten years after that unassuming start, we deliver an event that takes months to organise, plus a full day – and a night shift – to set up, welcoming upwards of 650 guests, scores of exhibitors, and a lineup of international speakers.

So how have we done it? What makes the Summit such a success when there are so many tech events out there competing for people’s attention? I’d say it stems from these principles:

It’s not all about us: The Summit is not designed merely as a showcase of our work or as a vehicle to keep retelling our story. At the heart of it lies our community and our ambition to deliver economic benefit for Scotland and beyond. The Summit is a launch pad for connecting industry, the public sector, academia and entrepreneurial individuals. It strengthens business networks by increasing visibility. It connects those seeking investment with the business angels and VCs interested in investing in them. In short, it’s an event designed to generate new relationships and partnerships across the entire technology ecosystem, not just create opportunity for CENSIS.

There’s something for everyone: If we’re asking you to give us a whole day of your time to come to the Summit, it’s our duty to make sure you leave thinking it was a worthwhile trade. We strive to make content that is informative, relevant and accessible so no matter what your background, challenge or offering, you’ll find something of interest. That’s why we structure our day to give every delegate the opportunity to do all these things: SHARE their innovation story or business idea; LEARN something new from leading thinkers; and CONNECT with new people.

Inclusion, not profit (part 1): From the outset, the Summit has been free for delegates. We’ve always taken the view that any charge – however small – creates a barrier to entry for many. Innovation, inspiration and connection are for everyone in our community, not just those who can afford the entrance fee.

Inclusion, not profit (part 2): We can make the Summit free for delegates thanks in no small part to the sponsors and exhibitors who’ve supported us over the years. Even then, we aim to keep exhibitor costs competitive. Our charges for exhibition space have remained steady for several years, despite inflationary pressures. That’s why you’ll still see innovative start-ups and young businesses exhibiting side by side with blue-chip companies.

Quality speakers, with no sales pitch: We pride ourselves on the high calibre of presenters and panellists we include in our agenda each year. Like me, I’m sure you’ve attended events before where presentations have sometimes felt like thinly disguised sales pitches. This can feel cynical and doesn’t inspire trust in organisers. At our Summit, no-one ever ‘pays to play’, even if that might make organisation easier. We work hard to secure interesting, relevant thinkers who are experts in their field and have something genuine to share with our audience.

We’re incredibly proud of what the Summit has become, and delivering it is truly a team effort. Stressful, yes, but it’s a brilliantly rewarding experience. There are numerous good news stories of companies forming partnerships and striking deals that would never have happened had not been for the Summit, and absolutely nothing beats that feeling of a job well done after receiving messages from delegates who took inspiration from the day, or exhibitors who immediately want to book their space for the following year.

While I might not see you until November, rest assured we’re working hard to bring you another Summit that continues to deliver against these principles. Bring it on –  registration is already open!