Meet the man behind Bath’s first virtual business festival

By Anita Jaynes on 9 July, 2020

On Wednesday 22nd July hundreds of local businesspeople are set to meet online to celebrate all of the wonderful businesses that make Bath such a special city at Bath Business Festival.

It’s the first time a digital business festival has been hosted in Bath and it’s the brainchild of local events professional, Franco de la Croix-Vaubois.

Franco has over twenty years-experience in hospitality and events, and his passion lies with people, making meaningful connections, building and nurturing relationships, sharing knowledge and expertise and referring business to friends and colleagues.

Following years of making events happen for private and corporate clients, Franco set up The Event Organisers Network, better known as EON – A community of event people across the South West, connecting online, at regular EON networking events and at MEET South West.

We caught up with Franco to find out more about him, how his business has been affected by Coronavirus and how he came up with the idea for Bath Business Festival.

How have you been supporting event organisers through Covid-19?

The event industry has been hit hard and there is still no real guidance or measures to support it from central government.

From the outset, I have been running fortnightly virtual events (EON LIVE!), for the industry to stay together, stay connect, stay informed and support one another. This then grew to EON Global LIVE, where we had great discussion and sharing of information with event organisations from Alaska, California, Washington (DC), Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, Sweden, India, Indonesia and Malaysia and from across the UK. Great to share knowledge and best practice to get events back on track. And that is the beauty of virtual events, that your events still have great content value, high engagement, a global reach (if relevant to your event) and great data insights.

How has your usual business been affected?

It went from healthy, growing and revenue generating to £0 overnight. Thankfully, I was (and still am) on the Natwest Entrepreneur Accelerator programme which has really helped in keeping me on track, positive and supportive in pivoting my business.

How badly hit is the events community locally?

The quick answer is that the effect on the local events industry has been disastrous. Venues, hotels, catering, entertainment, audio/visual, production, hospitality etc… shut down, overnight. Thankfully, the hospitality sector is slowly coming out of lockdown, but we will see many many businesses in this sector collapse. You cannot ask a restaurant, that breaks even at 70% capacity to operate at 30% capacity. But at least, they are out of the blocks.

Many people in the events industry are either self-employed or company directors employing themselves, many could not furlough because they need to keep their business alive, nor did they have any money coming in. In terms of government support, many of them fell between the cracks of CIBLS and furlough, with the only real options being a bounce back loan.

However, we are a highly creative industry and there is some success out there, such as private hire venues that can offer exclusive use, like North Cadbury Court, who have been booked back-to-back and are taking bookings into late next year and beyond. The other success stories are those that understood the gravity of the situation from the outset and embraced the opportunity. Seneca is credited with saying that “Luck is the combination of preparation and opportunity” and I think you have to make your luck in this climate. It’s time to stop bemoaning the situation. Yes, it’s tough, but everyone is affected, around the globe, so we have to make things happen, start adapting, pivoting, staying positive and coming up with ways to work in this new landscape.

How did you come up with the idea for Bath Business Festival?

Bath is an amazing city full of amazing people, businesses, sites, heritage, culture and amazing natural beauty. But it is not always very good at communicating! What I call siloed thinking. I have been wanting to do a ‘let’s get everyone together’ type event for some time. The current climate makes people very worried, scared and cautious about moving forward, and the best way to address this is to all get together and share knowledge, re-connect, support local businesses and communities, learn from one another and from experts in their own fields. This will give a confidence boost, inject positivity and give momentum at a time when everyone needs it, across ALL business areas. 

What can people expect on the day?

Positivity, expert insights, in-depth learning, peer-to-peer best practice, networking and doing business as a result. We have ’split’ the economy into 8 key areas and will have an expert speaker in each of these areas who will give us the ‘big picture’. Each keynote will be immediately followed by breakout sessions in that specific business area for delegates and panellists to ask questions, offer solutions and guidance. There will be an expo area too for businesses to showcase their expertise and get people trading again. They will be able to do this with live video streaming or a pre-recorded video.

Another big part of it will be the one-to-one randomised networking, meaning you will have speed networking in a focussed 1-to-1 conversation for 4 minutes, as many times as you want throughout the day without meeting the same person twice! Be warned, highly addictive and great fun! Lastly, we will wrap up the event with informal drinks, possibly with the DoomBar Zoom Bar (so anyone from Doombar reading this, please get in touch!) – Other locally based beverage companies are available and welcome to get in touch too.

How many people are you hoping to attend?

It’s difficult to say, as it is a virtual event, but I would say in excess of 500 registrations, mostly local, but national and international too – we already have some registration from Singapore!

What made you choose hopin as the virtual event platform?

I chose hopin.to  for three very simple reasons:

1) It is a pre-covid business – they identified the need for a solid virtual event platform, have been going for ages and are bug free, pretty much.

2) It is the closest I have found that replicates in-person events, is totally flexible and does everything under ‘one roof’.

3) There is a lot of ’noise’ out there dazzling us with ever more ‘invaluable knowledge’ and amazing apps and tech, all competing for our virtual attention and screen time. But zoom fatigue is setting in, attention span is shrinking and we need to get back to basics of events.

And hopin, for me, is just the right platform to deliver rich content, high engagement, dynamic event buzz, wide reach and easy access; affordable and measurable ROI.

Note of caution: hopin is not the answer to all events. Just like choosing a venue for your event, you have to pick the right platform that is suited to your event.

What types of businesses are you hoping to attend?

I’m ‘hoping’ everyone will love hopin! All businesses are invited to attend. This is an inclusive event and we don’t want anyone or any business to feel left out. The 8 areas we have created cover the vast majority of businesses:

  1. Retail Sector
  2. Hospitality, Tourism and Events
  3. Small Business & Start-Ups
  4. Arts, Culture, Media and Entertainment
  5. Digital & Tech
  6. Recruitment, HR, Training and Education
  7. Business Services (Finance/accounting, legal & insurance)
  8. Public Sector and 3rd sector

The idea being that everyone should be able to attend, to learn, share, network, do business and get behind the local and regional business community. There is a free ticket available which includes the 8 keynotes and the expo, or you can opt for a £5 early bird ticket which gives you ALL Event Access: 8 keynotes, 8 breakout sessions, all networking sessions (morning, lunch and afternoon), exhibition, entertainment plus the invite to the post event informal drinks. All that, for just a £5.

To find out more about Bath Business Festival and to book click here. Connect with Franco on LinkedIn and follow Event Organisers Network on Twitter @Event_O_Network

The Business Exchange is excited to be exhibiting on the day. Please ‘hopin’ and see us.