CTA President: ‘CES Will and Must Go On … It’s Time We Return to Making the World Better, Rather Than Living in Fear’

We know several major companies have reduced their physical presence at CES 2022, and we understand their concerns. They want to protect their employees from COVID-19 and the risk of having to quarantine in Las Vegas. Our staff raised this issue with me, and I told employees that anyone with concerns would not be required to travel to Las Vegas.

Gary Shapiro

At CTA, we believe passionately that innovation and technology will make a better world and solve some of the biggest problems in health, energy, mobility, the environment (clean air and clean water) and more. CES is the world’s largest innovation event and we have thousands of people coming from around the world to see and show products that will make life better. We just heard from the Netherlands delegation about entrepreneurs eager to come to the show, as well as business people from France and Africa looking forward to the many innovations at CES. In addition to thousands of entrepreneurs, AARP is running a start-up contest for products serving seniors and the winners of the Global Women’s HealthTech awards — an awards program developed by CTA and The World Bank — will showcase innovations aimed at improving women’s health in emerging markets. 

I first joined the CTA after serving as a consultant, going to a CTA board meeting and hearing the then board chairman (who represented our largest exhibitor) guide a discussion on whether to raise the cost of CES. I will never forget his guidance: we must always run CES for the sake of entrepreneurs with new ideas. The show allows them to present to potential investors, partners, buyers, media and others who will give them feedback, offer investment or even acquire them. That is an article of faith at our association.  

Innovation can come from anywhere and anybody, and we must respect and encourage that. This conviction informs all of our public policy positions, and the major tech companies — almost all of whom are our members — respect CTA for always looking out for smaller companies. Indeed, at CES and even as members of CTA, over 80% of our membership is smaller companies. At CES, we promote the newest entrepreneurs with a huge, subsidized section of the show, Eureka Park, where hundreds of start ups from around the world get to connect and thrive or learn and adjust. Many of these founders tap out their credit cards just to get to Las Vegas, and while we subsidize their space, we know that the exposure of CES can make or break them. These companies and these founders are the ones I think when I say it’s not time to pull the plug on CES 2022.

Ask Robbi Cabral, Founder and CEO of BenjiLock, an immigrant who lost his job while his wife was pregnant. Robbie talks frequently about how Eureka Park transformed his company from an idea to an enterprise. Or ask Aswhin Navin, CEO of Samba TV, who had a small booth in Eureka Park several years ago and has now filed for an IPO. 

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CES will and must go on. It will have many more small companies than large ones. It may have big gaps on the show floor. Certainly, it will be different from previous years. It may be messy. But innovation is messy. It is risky and uncomfortable. I view CES as representing the best of our unique American history — a place where those who are different and have big ideas can gather.  Where success is not based on class or religion or anything but the strength of an idea.

CES 2022 attendees will see a spaceship created by Eren Ozmen, the co-owner of Sierra Nevada Corp. Eren and her husband Fatih, immigrants from Turkey, built this business that now shuttles goods to space. Attendees will also see a robotic kitchen that makes complete meals and hundreds of other products by innovators and entrepreneurs from around the world.  

As we look to CES 2022, we confront a tough choice. If we cancel the show, we will hurt thousands of smaller companies, entrepreneurs and innovators who have made investments in building their exhibits and are counting on CES for their business, inspiration and future. If we do not cancel, we face the drumbeat of press and other critics who tell the story only through their lens of drama and big name companies.  

We are mindful of concerns that CES could be an event where the Omicron variant can spread. We are leading the way in requiring masks and vaccines, recommending testing and offering free tests. No one wants to get sick.  We respect that some do not want to take the risk involved in travel to Las Vegas, even in the vaccinated bubble of CES. But with significant safety measures and fewer people, there is plenty of space for attendees to socially distance. We have consulted with experts, both medical and analytical, and have been advised that with our health and safety protocols infections should be minimal.   

I will feel safer at CES with our vaccine and masking mandate than I do when I’m running every day errands, including food shopping!  In fact, our consultants concluded CES would have no measurable effect on Las Vegas and its ability to deal with any new spike in COVID-19.  

We are also working with leading health experts in the state of Nevada who support the best practices we have put in place, and followed the recommendations of an outside event medical consulting group who assured us our precautions way exceeded the norm.  Below is a statement from Dr. Tony Slonim, president and CEO CEO of Renown Health in Reno, Nev.:

“With the recent climate, many people have been working remotely and creating virtual relationships. That’s okay, the work gets done, but for me, nothing is better than meeting in person,” says  Tony Slonim, MD, DrPH, FACHE, president and CEO of Renown Health in Reno, NV, one of the nation’s most innovative and progressive health systems. “CES 2022 brings together progressive thinkers and energetic pioneers who are passionate about bringing technology to the world and improving lives. That has never been more important than it is today. The good news is we are now more prepared than ever to keep people safe, which is the top priority for CES. I am impressed that the Consumer Technology Association, our hotels, the [Las Vegas] conference venues and the City of Las Vegas have worked diligently to put every contemporary safety practice in place to ensure a healthy and successful in-person meeting this year. I encourage you to join me in attending CES 2022, adhering to the requirements, building new relationships, and supporting the innovators, professions and industries integral to our future.”   

We also benefit from the wisdom of one of our Board members, Jim Mault, a prestigious doctor and entrepreneur and former chief medical officer of Qualcomm. Jim also started and heads BioIntelliSense a start-up CES exhibitor and maker of wearable technology for monitoring discharged patients or seeing temperature differentials indicating the onset of COVID-19. As Jim put it:

“As a volunteer CTA leader, physician, entrepreneur, CES exhibitor and heading a company relevant to fighting Covid, I appreciate the extraordinary CES health and safety measures. I look forward to CES.”

The bottom line is that we are living in uncertain times. We have spent some 20 months surviving — thanks to vaccines, the medical community and technology — in a virtual world. But as every CEO knows, we are humans. We need each other and we especially need each other for innovation to thrive!  

Let’s face it head on — we survived but we need to live. For those who are vaccinated and willing to take the minor risk of Omicron and a quarantine, CES may be worth it. For those who have a dream of using innovation to build a better world, we will be in Las Vegas bringing thousands of entrepreneurs together eager to make those connections and discoveries. For those who can’t make it to Las Vegas, we will stream many of the key presentations and give every exhibitor, including those who recently canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, the no-cost opportunity to extend their CES presence globally. 

It’s time we return to making the world better, rather than living in fear. Earlier this week, President Biden asked Americans to vaccinate, wear masks, test for COVID — and stop closing schools and businesses. I agree. CES 2022 will kick off 2022 messy, but it will be chock full of innovation and full of entrepreneurs and businesses. We will all be taking risks. But without risk there is no innovation. 

For those who don’t attend, we respect your decision, we encourage you to join us digitally, and we hope to see you at CES in 2023. For those who are coming, we can’t wait to see you in Vegas! 

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the trade group that produces the annual CES.

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