Since I rejoined UNLEASH last spring, we’ve been working towards a more comprehensive approach to showcasing the latest and greatest in HR tech, expanding beyond pure startups.
This shift in focus is timely, as HR tech investments have skyrocketed to unimaginable heights in the wake of the pandemic.
In 2021, late-stage VC shot to the top of the charts, dominating 82% of the investment market. Meanwhile, early-stage investments continue to grow in both quality and quantity, strategic alliance has asserted itself as a primary path to market, D&I has evolved into DE&I, and wellbeing, employee experience, and candidate experience dominate more than ever before.
Trends are changing fast, and these ongoing ‘unprecedented times’ have ostensibly shaken up the world of work like few events in recent memory.
Don’t worry, I’ll try to stop writing in buzzwords — I’m as tired of them as you are. Consider this my personal ‘Great Resignation‘ from think-piece jargon.
Startups and UNLEASH: A history
Startups have been a huge part of our DNA, and part of the beating heart of our exhibition floor, since 2011. We were among the first global HR tech events to prioritize pitching stages and competitions, in a direct effort to promote the up-and-comers in the industry and help them find their footing.
When I quizzed our CEO, Marc Coleman, he reiterated those sentiments:
“I decided to include startups from the get-go. I knew the struggles of starting new businesses first hand, and saw it immediately in the HR industry, where startups were not even allowed into major shows at the time.
“The startup competition in 2011 was the first in the industry globally, and I’m proud of that accolade. It was all pro-bono on our part and designed to give them a leg up against the corporate giants consolidating the marketplace. I still remember all six finalists.”
Our name has changed since that first event (shoutout to Hugo, Rupert, and Nancy, the erstwhile mascots of HRN Europe), but our passion for carving out space for the companies that will change the face of HR tech remains the same.
We’re proud to have played a hand in their growth and to name them as our partners today. The startups we’ve hosted have collectively raised $2.94b in funding, and about 10% of our startups go on to become leading sponsors.
The ‘why’ of emerging tech
With the market exploding, it’s more important than ever to provide our newer vendors with access to a reliable community of advisors, investors, analysts, and potential customers.
Likewise, our HR practitioner audience is increasingly excited to learn about the latest technologies; namely, anything that makes their day-to-day more livable and their workforce more productive.
In 2021/22, brand new companies are leapfrogging valuations with 7+ figure investments, while established providers are competing alongside these startups in the same spaces.
One of the common pain points I hear from founders is that it’s difficult to carve out their niche as the big dogs crowd every microcosm of the HR tech sphere. This has forced a necessary change in the concept of ‘startup’.
Acquisitions and partnerships abound, but promising startups can lose their voice in this crowded market, especially if they don’t make the right connections early on.
This is an even more challenging feat in a world where face-to-face is so hard to come by. Meanwhile, as money pours into the industry, company age, size, and funding are losing ground as defining features, and the lines between startup and scaleup are increasingly blurred.
We have a strong belief in supporting new waves of innovators, who can best identify market struggles and act quickly, unencumbered by the corporate protocol of larger companies. This cycle is exciting, and we derive a lot of joy from working with new technology providers.
The power of the UNLEASH network provides unparalleled opportunities for our startup partners, and selfishly, it brings as much energy to the UNLEASH team as it does to our customers. Our startups are the industry leaders of tomorrow, so we would be shooting ourselves in the foot by not providing a real value proposition and stage for emerging technologies.
Marc Coleman, Founder & CEO, UNLEASH
We will continue to create specific content and opportunities around the newest and most innovative companies alongside our expanded emerging tech focus.
For you insatiable knowledge-seekers, check out some of our latest articles covering emerging HR tech to tide you over.
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