This Startup Enables Human Connections at Virtual Events — Here’s How

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Live events are all about connection. We all know that. Back before the pandemic, brands and publishers were increasingly investing in live events as a way to build their profiles and generate revenue. Sixty-five percent of business-to-business marketers in the professional services industry were hosting conferences by the end of 2019, and 87% believed in-person events were a “critical component” to their company’s success. 

Then the pandemic hit. In an instant, live events all but disappeared.

Conferences, seminars, festivals, and leadership courses were postponed, cancelled, or moved to online-only in 2020. Even the Sundance Film Festival was transformed into an almost entirely remote event. Although the virtual events industry grew at a steady clip throughout the year, brands struggled to reproduce what was traditionally one of the most important features of live, in-person events: human connections.

Networking and building connections with other industry leaders was one of the primary reasons why people attended live events before the pandemic. In a world where virtual events have become the norm, brands, publishers, and B2B companies are struggling to reproduce the human connections that people crave in an digital-first environment.

A new startup called Welcome is working on a solution. 

Welcome’s mission

Backed by Y-combinator and Kleiner Perkins, Welcome is working on a way for businesses to host virtual events that feel like they’re not taking place online. Product launches, sales events, seminars, expos, and networking events can all be created within the Welcome platform. Unlike the simple webinars most people are used to, these events can be set up to include green rooms, breakout areas, video mixing, graphical overlays, high-definition streaming, and other audience engagement features. Welcome partnered with MIT to design its networking environments in a way that the company says enables actual human connections.

“MIT Media Labs has been studying how to create engaging online conversations for five years, so we wanted to piggyback off of their data to make sure that we created the most engaging networking experience that we could. At the end of the day, everyone wants high engagement, and that’s what we provide better than anyone else,” says Welcome President and Co-Founder Jerry Shen.

Shen and his partners didn’t begin working on the project until after the onset of Covid-19, which gave the team the luxury of seeing how companies were handling virtual events before they started designing their platform. Welcome was specifically developed to plug the obvious holes that Shen and his partners saw, like the inability to interact with other attendees at virtual events and the inability to mix pre-recorded and live content.

With Welcome, hosts can run virtual events like interactive TV shows. Speakers can prepare in the green room. Audience members can be invited on a virtual stage. And companies shouldn’t need to hire outside A/V teams or bring in third-party production tools to produce their events.

“We provide production tools directly in the platform. This eliminates the need to hire an A/V team to create a highly produced event,” Shen says. “We also operate as an events agency that can produce a virtual event end to end for our customer.”

A long-term turn to virtual events?

Although Welcome is currently focusing on corporate events, the company works with a wide variety of clients. Based on what he’s seeing in the field, Shen believes that the majority of corporate events will stay virtual even once Covid vaccines are widely distributed and people feel comfortable traveling once again.

Hybrid events may stick around for some time as well, but Shen says that by and large the economics of virtual-only events will make it tough for businesses to justify returning to in-person.

“We are doubling down on corporate events, as it’s becoming clear that the ROI from virtual events are much higher than their in-person counterparts,” Shen says.

“Companies are realizing that most of the events they held had very little business value to justify their high cost. The missing ingredient is the experience, and that will continue to be our focus going forward.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.