The traditional business model for events is dead. The future is going to be a hybrid

When it comes to reimagining what the events industry will look like in the near future, these are the four things we should be thinking about according to Wolves Summit’s Vice-President, Mike Chaffe.

Mike grew Wolves Summit to become one of the largest tech conferences in CEE. In March this year, when most tech events were put on hold, he made the decision to organise Wolves Summit 11th as a fully virtual event. Over 1,500 participants, 600 startups, and 300 investors tuned in online to be part of the former edition. Since then the Wolves Summit team has also organised other events on behalf of some of the largest organisations in Poland and worldwide. Wolves Summit now offers technical support to CEE & CIS based Hopin clients. Hopin is an event software that has recently secured $40M in funding.


If there was ever a catalyst to reimagine the events space, the coronavirus is it. 

E-conferences and virtual events were happening before the crisis, of course, but it wasn’t until the majority of the world went into quarantine that the concept of digital broadcasting went from being a cool addition to an in-person event to becoming its central focus. 

In the last eight months, we’ve weathered a lot of storms and experimented with a lot of technologies and formats. I’ve had regular calls with event leaders including Vlad Ciurca, founder at Techsylvania, and very soon it’s become clear that we now need to imagine a world where maybe the best parts of a live event can be facilitated remotely. 

When it comes to reimagining what the events industry will look like in the near future, there are three key learnings I would like to share with anyone that is working in the event business.


1. Event organisers need to grow a new set of muscles to remain relevant

COVID-19 forced us to embrace this moment with ingenuity and has been a steep learning curve for everyone working in the industry. Managing a physical event requires a different set of skills than digitally marketing a virtual event, facilitating remote participation, and dealing with bandwidth issues.

Event organisers of all sizes are going to need to take it upon themselves to facilitate a seamless customer experience. We will soon witness a verticalization of offerings among some of the biggest event organisers.

There is currently so much “noise” in the virtual event space and those that make the extra effort to curate physical gatherings will get ahead. The winners emerging out of this crisis will most likely look to own the entire supply chain from bringing key individuals to bespoke physical gatherings, facilitating all aspects such as travel and accommodation, and delivering the event both virtually and physically.


2. We will have to blend “virtual” with “live” to create impact at scale

Part of the thing about conferences, especially in an emerging technology ecosystem, is the opportunity to meet face-to-face with people you might not otherwise meet and come up with plans for doing new business and projects together. That’s to a large extent how innovation develops. 

We’ve focused on that for a long time, fine-tuning our matchmaking software to keep the summit organised and productive for attendees. You only have three days at the event to make meaningful connections for you and your business. The tool can direct you to the right investors, founders, and other attendees that you don’t know, but should know. 

Physical event attendance will now be at a premium, and event organisers will need to prioritise quality over quantity. We made that decision early-on when we announced that the upcoming Wolves Summit edition (October 5-7) will run both online and in-person in Warsaw. 

Startups can apply to attend the conference online free of charge. We currently have 800 European and international founders signed- up for our event in October. The on-site part of the event is highly exclusive filled with networking evening events, dedicated workshops, and world-class speakers. For the first time, we released a limited number of paid startup tickets ranging between €249-€500.

The vetting process is extremely important and if we don’t feel a startup is ready, we have to politely reject them. We have to maintain a certain standard, as we have over 100 VCs joining to meet these startups. They want to return to their HQ with promising prospects to invest in, so the pressure is on to make sure the companies are of a high enough standard.


3. Business models for events are being re-defined

Charging for access to an in-person event is very different from charging for virtual access. In one scenario, the customer pays for “the experience, the ability to rub shoulders with people you’d like to meet, to see renowned speakers up close. On the other hand, attending a virtual event comes at a fraction of the cost (if you were to travel, pay for a hotel, etc). 

Right now, companies are still trying to figure out what business model can and should be applied to hybrid events. I’ve seen an increasing shift towards subscription-based models. 

I believe the event market is ripe for disruption and ready for a major shift in how the content is delivered and monetised. If until recently, the main sources of revenue for a large annual conference would have come from sponsorships and ticket sales, going forward we expect a more “scalable” business model that delivers value far beyond the three-day event.  


Turning uncertainty into a driver for growth

In the last five years, Wolves Summit helped inject a certain growth and energy in Poland. There has also been incredible support from the Polish government bodies and the City of Warsaw. Throughout these years, CEE has become the fastest emerging region in Europe in terms of venture capital invested, growing well over twice as fast as Western Europe. In 2015 there was only 300m invested in this region, last year, close to 2bn. It’s become a melting pot of talent and cutting edge technologies.

After our 12th edition in October, we will focus much more on Central Eastern European startups looking to provide as many opportunities possible for these founders to meet investors and to raise investment. We will complement our flagship event with a monthly series of in-person meet-ups organised across the CEE region – Romania, Hungary, Russia etc. 

Every event will see the best 10 startups from each city pitching in front of regional and European investors. The winning startups will be invited to the annual Wolves Summit event in Warsaw, where all countries of CEE are represented, including associated trade/public institutions. 


Final words

As the conference industry figures out its next steps, we and our participants are eager for their return. As a $1.1tn global industry supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs, conferences have to and will continue. 

Networking will remain a big part of conferencing. Although organisers are trying to replicate as much as they can through online events, that intangible element of being energised around others is much harder to capture when people aren’t physically gathered. The future of the events is going to be a hybrid. 

For more information about Wolves Summit please visit their website at
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