Made Smarter Innovation Alley is one of the highlights of the Smart Factory Expo, run as part of Digital Manufacturing Week in Liverpool, and it’s no coincidence that the alley runs down the very centre of the show floor.
In partnership with the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) and Innovate UK, each year Made Smarter Innovation Alley provides a space for young fledgling digital technology innovators to showcase their offerings to the thousands of manufacturers and industry leaders who attend UK manufacturing’s showpiece event.
A natural progression for many of these businesses, as they flourish and grow, is to become full exhibitors at the Smart Factory Expo. Here, we speak to three such companies about their own experiences at Made Smarter Innovation Alley and how it helped them to establish themselves within the manufacturing sector.
Smartia is a provider of scalable AI solutions that connect and transform industrial data into actionable insights
A first foray
First exhibiting at Made Smarter Innovation Alley in 2018, Smartia is a provider of scalable AI solutions that connect and transform industrial data into actionable insights. MAIO, Smartia’s industrial intelligence platform combines edge computing, big data technology and AI-driven applications to provide a complete digital solution for the manufacturing and engineering industries.
Company Co-founder and CCO, Asim Majid looks back on Smartia’s first visit to Made Smarter Innovation Alley: “Made Smarter Innovation Alley provided our first opportunity as a start-up to showcase our technology and services at a cost that was manageable for the fledgling company that we were just a few years ago. We hadn’t seen anything like this at any other event, and still haven’t.
“Due to the nature of the businesses exhibiting on the alley, it drew the most attendance as it presented the latest in technology innovations in the area of Industry 4.0. The alley is located centrally, so attendees have to pass it as they move around the event hall. Smartia also had a speaking slot included so we could introduce the company and technology to a captive audience. This resulted in follow up meetings and opportunities with well qualified leads.”
For start-ups who are perhaps unfamiliar with the landscape, the costs associated with exhibitions can clearly be daunting and prohibitive in some cases. However, Made Smarter Innovation Alley provides an opportunity for early-stage companies to dip their toe in the exhibition waters while still getting in front of the people they need to, as David Thompson, Project Manager at lean production system specialist, Iter Digital explains: “Made Smarter Innovation Alley gave us the perfect platform to see if exhibiting was right for Iter Digital. The setup of the space allows you to exhibit with very little investment, yet still have access to all event attendees. Despite the smaller area, it gets you closer to passers-by and encourages interaction.”
“Made Smarter Innovation Alley is a very cost-effective option to get involved in events. Exhibitions can be costly and there are several elements that, as a start-up, you’re not aware of in terms of what is required to exhibit successfully. Made Smarter Innovation Alley gave us a safer, more effective environment to engagement engaged with people and have a show presence,” adds George Hancock CGO & Business Development Director at machine learning applications provider, The Data Analysis Bureau.
A vital role to play
Made Smarter Innovation Alley is unique in terms of events that focus on manufacturing and industrial sectors. And the Smart Factory Expo is the most important event in the calendar for technology companies looking to break into the manufacturing space. Therefore, for many start-ups and SMEs it is vital that they are there to showcase themselves and the ally provides the perfect space for start-ups and SMEs to showcase their products/services without a significant financial outlay.
“Having a distinctive space for SME’s and start-ups prompted really good conversation and meant we were visited by very interested attendees,” says David. “Made Smarter Innovation Alley was good for us as an early-stage company to actually speak to people and understand what they wanted, look at the maturity of the market, and understand what the trends were,” adds George.
Despite the fact that its proposition was still a work in progress during the company’s first Made Smarter Innovation Alley visit, the show still enabled T-Dab to focus on really specific use cases for the sector, and talk about relevant case studies to each client that visited the stand.
George adds: “We were talking to several machining companies, for example, and we were able to talk about how they can use data for predictive maintenance, anomaly detection, condition monitoring, etc. So we were able to hone our message and improve conversations with customers. And we had a broad range, from start-ups all the way through to enterprise companies. So it’s a great jumping off point to build up that relationships.”
“Our list of leads were very diverse in terms of the various industries that are represented, as well as a number of attendees from various educational institutions. We had people from local as well as nationwide manufacturing facilities and even some visitors from Europe,” adds David.
If you meet the criteria for Made Smarter Innovation Alley and you are new to exhibiting at such events, then it is a great stepping-stone to gauge reaction to a product/service and understand what goes into exhibiting and if it’s right for your company.
It may also sound like basic marketing but it is also important to be proactive, targeted, and send a clear message so visitors understand what you offer. “Make sure it’s engaging,” George adds. “People can think it’s gimmicky, but you need something to draw people to the stand. Also get involved in talks as they are a massive part of promoting the brand, boosting your credibility and capability, and engaging more people.”
Asim adds: “To quote Nike, ‘just do it’, especially if you are targeting the manufacturing technology sector you have to be there. The added bonus is that the attendees are generally well qualified so most will be the ideal prospects you want to talk to.”
Taking the step up to SFE
The natural progression for the many companies to have cut their teeth at Made Smarter Innovation Alley, is to move beyond the dedicated start-up zone and become a fully-fledge Smart Factory Expo exhibitor. The alley offers something of a graduation (with companies allowed to exhibit for a maximum of two years) and so is the next step in terms of returning to Digital Manufacturing Week, enabling companies to set up in a bigger, thus maximising engagement and customer recognition on the show floor.
“We met many manufacturing companies that were looking at Industry 4.0 technologies, especially around IIoT and AI which is what we specialise in,” adds Asim. “These companies varied in size, but most were medium to large enterprises and came from all over the world. Being part of SFE helped establish Smartia on the UK technology provider map.”
David adds: Having reflected on what our space at Made Smarter Innovation Alley gave us, we felt that exhibitions were right for us, and the number and quality of leads we captured more than justified wanting to come back with a designated stand.
“At SFE we found there to be high quality leads, consisting of both decision-makers and influencers within their organisation, and we have experienced success with those leads post-show. Despite COVID, we found footfall at the 2021 event really good and the stream of visitors felt pretty constant throughout the course of the two days.”
Next up for 2022
Thoughts for all three companies are of course, now turning to Digital Manufacturing Week 2022, as Asim adds: “The main aim of exhibiting and presenting at SFE is to generate new business opportunities, talk to many potential customers in a short space of time, showcase our industrial intelligence technology and services, and to be seen as a growing player in the Industry 4.0 scene.
“We did this to a certain degree when we were on the Made Smarter Innovation Alley, but we now have much more impact as a main exhibitor. Many attendees will have seen us over the years and observed the growth of our business and the maturing of our technology; continuing our association in SFE helps cement our brand in the minds of attendees.”