For $1000, a chance for tech glory in Vegas

A new section at the Consumer Electronics Show allows small startups to join the show

"When you've got a lot of angry zombies coming at you, you really don't want to have to look away from the screen..."

Jeffery Smith, 50, slips into his sales pitch in booth number 73014 at the Consumer Electronics Show. He's the COO of Square Trees, whose "Contact Patch" product is a set of rubberlike patches that stick onto iPad screens to give gamers better grip.

His quarry, two show-goers toting giveaway bags stuffed with promotional items, listen for a bit and then wander away. Smith, who does marketing, sales, and whatever else he can to help the only other member of the company, his CEO and brother Stephen, watches them go and then resets his iPad demo.

At CES, the massive electronics exhibition in Las Vegas each year, large companies like Sony and Samsung set up displays the size of city blocks, and thousands of reporters line up for hours to get access. The bigger booths cost over US$1.5 million for floor space alone, not including the massive 3D displays, sound systems and staff that keep them running.

A few miles away from the main show floor in quiet conference rooms, would-be entrepreneurs at about 100 booths vie for the attention of a steady trickle of curious show-goers that amble by. Exhibits include finger rings to make texting easier, a Velcro strap to better hold your smartphone, and a laser-powered window display.

This year, CES opened up a new section for startups, which it is calling Eureka Park. Entries are limited to first-time exhibitors at the show and come with a 10-foot by 10-foot space, table and rear wall for hanging displays.

They cost $1,000, a bargain for a major exhibition.

(See a video of some Eureka Park attendees here)

"We thought, 'What's a number where you can just throw it on your credit card?'" said Allison Fried, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Electronics Association, which runs CES.

Fried said her organization is losing money on Eureka and views it as a service to the industry. The smallest booths in the main exhibition halls typically cost over $5,000 for a bare patch of tiled floor.

"We're careful with our money," said Chris Moyer at booth 73209, who in September quit his job as an accountant in New York to focus on his start-up, Dockem.

Moyer and younger brother moved back to their parents' home in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania to run the business, which makes wall mounts for smartphones and tablets that don't mar your paint or wallpaper. He said Dockem has gotten some attention from distributors just by being listed in the CES literature.

"This tape sticks to anything but vinyl," says his brother Colby to a potential customer, describing the adhesive for the product.

Some exhibitors bemoaned the location for the event, which requires most attendees to take a shuttle or taxi. One CES staffer just outside had no idea where it was located.

"Traffic-wise, there's not really the traffic you get in the main hall," said Wayne Rasanen, president and founder of In10did, which makes a small device that fits an entire keyboard on to just 10 keys.

Rasanen, who stands in booth 73409 with his wife Joan, said his two daughters are missing their first few days of college to attend CES with the family. They spent the last evening before the show putting samples together in their hotel room and won't have time for much of a vacation, though they did get tickets for everyone to go see comedian David Spade on the last night.

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