For three days in February 2017, more than 2,000 people traveled around the San Francisco Bay Area visiting companies such as LinkedIn, Pandora, Slack, and PayPal. Their wristbands identified them as participants in the NewCo Bay Area Festival, which has a field-trip-style format devised by NewCo C.E.O. John Battelle and co-founder and executive producer Stacey Foreman.
“We had attended a lot of music festivals, and we always loved that there is a huge menu of things to see,” Foreman said. “It was that kind of concept. You are putting on your backpack, using the app, and you will be out in the city going from session to session and meeting people. That’s part of the serendipity. People share rides or walk together and then make a business development deal or meet a partner. All kinds of things have happened.”
Now in its fifth year in San Francisco and with similar events in 20 global cities, the festival attracts a variety of attendees, from members of the public who receive limited-access free tickets to others that purchase tickets for an enhanced experience.
In 2017, about 150 companies participated, each hosting a one-hour session with a company executive and often a site tour. Attendees could visit as many as six companies in a day.
Foreman said the format spurs better learning for the attendees and better insights and passion from the speakers, who are presenting from the comfort of their home environment.
“In a world where things are getting more online and less face-to-face, this is an opportunity when you are in small group setting to make a real connection with people,” she said. “From the host company perspective, the attendees are intentional about what they are seeing. They are not just passively sitting in their seat and half-listening while they scroll on their phones. They have chosen to come to your company, they have gotten themselves there. So people are very engaged, very thoughtful.”
New for 2017, organizers created the two-day Shift Forum, which took place prior to the festival. About 400 people attended to discuss how business, technology, and government can work together to drive the next wave of economic advancement.