An Interview with Richard Blackwell About InfoComm’s Innovation Pavilion

infocomm15-ip-0615InfoComm 2015 is now over, with most of our coverage finished up. One unique new feature at the show this year was the Innovation Pavilion, a space for start-up companies exhibiting for the first time at InfoComm (first time for the company, not necessarily the founders, some of whom were actually industry vets). The pavilion was designed to help bring small and often new tech companies to InfoComm, to both attract new talent to the industry and show tech entrepreneurs from outside the traditional AV space that there’s a lot of reason to be in it, as well as give attendees a chance to see new and innovative solutions coming from tech start-ups.

The Innovation Pavilion was the brainchild of Richard Blackwell, an Atlanta-based entrepreneur with a long career in the AV and IT industries. I caught up with Richard in the closing hours of InfoComm to find out more about how his idea for the Innovation Pavilion came together.

Sara: I understand you came up with the idea for the pavilion several years ago. Tell us what you were hoping to achieve.
Richard: Sara, a big thanks goes the people at InfoComm, whose generosity and vision made this idea into a reality. And of course to rAVe for the incredible coverage of every start-up that was selected for the inaugural year (Editor’s note: See all of rAVe’s InfoComm coverage, including that on the Innovation Pavilion, on our InfoComm 2015 microsite here.) So the idea came to me several years back while I was serving on the InfoComm Membership Steering Committee. Being an entrepreneur, I have long been a mentor to young start-up companies and it occurred to me that with the AV industry being very high tech and expensive to enter, we did not do a lot to nurture our own young. At that moment, the idea to create an incubator of sorts specifically designed to assist the young companies struggling to create the next big AV sensation was born. Blind luck played a part when I was fortunate enough to meet Alex Damico, chief operating officer of InfoComm, at a committee meeting and he patiently listened as I excitedly described the idea to him. Honestly, I think most individuals would have politely listened and then discreetly exited as soon as was convenient, but Alex mulled the idea over and said, “I like it — send me a description of the idea and I will see what I can do.” The rest is history.

richard-blackwell-sm-0615Sara: So it happened right away after that?
Richard: Not exactly. While Alex and the folks at InfoComm liked the idea, we had missed the opportunity to get it planned and entered into the next year, and there was a lot to do to bring the idea to reality. It was actually about three years from the first conversations until its roll out this year in 2015. Working with Alex and Jason McGraw, we hammered out over time the plan and all the details – and there were a lot of details. As we approached the 2015 show, Debbie Clisham joined us and coordinated the final details for all the entrants.

Sara: Could anyone get into the Innovation Pavilion?
Richard: Our plan is that the pavilion be limited to AV start-ups that are either pre-revenue or early in the revenue stage of development. Essentially, if a start-up is already successful then we don’t want them to take this opportunity from those that still need it. This year with limited exposure we exactly filled the spaces available, but next year I expect that as the word gets out there will be a selection process based on need, and a few other parameters that are still in discussion.

innovations-0615Sara: What would you change?
Richard: In general I would say the pavilion was 90 percent correct on the first pass, so the changes I will suggest are pretty minor. A few items might be; I would change the layout to be more community centric instead of the traditional show grid layout — possibly all kiosks facing to a central common area. I would remove the presentation area and combine our speakers with another area – the speakers did not get much attendance so I think we could use that space/time better. I would also recommend we not include the private meeting rooms as they had very little use. Entrepreneurs don’t get a lot of sleep and they socialize a lot with other entrepreneurs to gain knowledge. While I may get some pushback from InfoComm, I will absolutely recommend free beer for everyone each night when the show closes — and probably coffee each morning too (lots of coffee).

Sara: What was the best part of the pavilion?
Richard: The community. Almost immediately, the participants were reaching out to meet everyone around them. There were are lot of good ideas shared and tons of experience pooled too. While I think everyone would say they got some good leads, I think all will agree that they gained a lot from the other entrepreneurs in the pavilion.