By Jon Swartz
AFP via Getty Images
For months, Metawave Corp. eagerly anticipated one of its most important events of the year: 20 one-on-one meetings with key business partners that would launch the San Diego-based startup’s business plans into 2020.
Those meetings were set at a private suite in Barcelona, Spain, to coincide with the influential Mobile World Congress convention. When that show was canceled due to fears about the COVID-19 outbreak, Metawave was forced to traverse the U.S. to make good on all of its MWC appointments.
“It was an inconvenience because it created more work for us in terms of travel,” Metawave Chief Executive Maha Achour told MarketWatch in a phone interview. “I’ll need to go to Silicon Valley and New York for meetings. The rest will be over Zoom /zigman2/quotes/211319643/composite ZM -4.84% .” (Shares of Zoom rose sharply during the week while the rest of the market was getting creamed.)
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Achour, whose company focuses on radar sensing for automated driving and wireless solutions for 5G deployments, was one of a handful of startup CEOs who agreed to broach the topic of the effects of MWC’s cancellation. Most declined to discuss their plans to make up for the lost week of face-to-face time with potential customers and partners.
And it could just be the beginning. AT&T Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203165245/composite T +0.58% and Verizon Communications Inc. /zigman2/quotes/204980236/composite VZ -0.51% said fears of COVID-19 led them to pull out of RSA, one of the largest security conferences in the world, which took place in San Francisco this week. International Business Machines Corp. /zigman2/quotes/203856914/composite IBM +0.60% dropped out as well, the same day Facebook Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB +0.66% canceled a March marketing summit in San Francisco.
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The abandonment of a show as big as MWC — which draws more than 100,000 attendees from 200 countries — stings economically for the host city, mobile industry and entrepreneurs from across the globe who attend in hopes of doing deals. Indeed, companies who poured money into setting up elaborate booths and paid fees to exhibit are out of luck. In an email to MWC attendees obtained by MarketWatch, show` organizers GSMA said it was not granting refunds, citing a “force majeure” clause in its standard agreements with exhibitors and sponsors.
MWC’s cancellation bodes darkly for a slew of trade shows in coming months if the outbreak continues into the spring. Organizers of the international technology summit EmTech Asia last week announced the event, scheduled for March 24-26 in Singapore, had been postponed until August because of coronavirus concerns.
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The conference season especially kicks into high gear soon in Silicon Valley. The Game Developers Conference , planned for March 16-20 in San Francisco, was abruptly postponed late on Feb. 28.
Oculus Developers bowed out of the show last week, citing public health risks related to COVID-19. But by Feb. 27, Microsoft Corp., /zigman2/quotes/207732364/composite MSFT -0.42% one of GDC’s biggest exhibitors, had dropped out and said it would streamline its content. The day before its announcement, the computing giant warned investors it will not meet its recent guidance for its personal-computing business because of the impact of the coronavirus on the supply chain. Activision Blizzard Inc. /zigman2/quotes/200717283/composite ATVI -2.39% , Epic, and Unity had also canceled their GDC plans.
Then there is the mother lode of developer shows for tech giants: Alphabet Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL +0.68% /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG +0.73% plans to host its Google Cloud Next conference April 6-8 in San Francisco, and Google I/O takes place in Mountain View, Calif., on May 12-14; and Microsoft hosts Build in Seattle (May 19-21). Apple Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL -1.06% Worldwide Developers Conference follows in June in San Jose.
Facebook’s F8 developer conference became the first major U.S. tech show to be shuttered. On Feb. 27, the company said it was canceled due to “growing concerns” around coronavirus. The event was to take place in San Jose, Calif., on May 5-6. Instead, Facebook said it would still stream videos and other content in lieu of hosting the event.
Microsoft, which attended RSA, is expected to proceed with Build. Google and Apple did not respond to email messages seeking comment. Google subsequently canned its Google News Initiative Global Summit, scheduled for April 22-23 in Sunnyvale, Calif., due to the “coronavirus situation.”