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Matthieu Wipliez
Matthieu Wipliez
Matthieu Wipliez is CTO and co-founder of the Synflow EDA start-up company. He has spent the last two years working on a new programming language called C~ ("C flow") for next-generation hardware design, and developing an IDE for that language. Matthieu writes about what he loves, like disruptive … More »

What future for the DATE conference?

April 8th, 2014 by Matthieu Wipliez

(this is a copy of a post I wrote as a Guest Blogger, the original can be found here)

Two weeks ago my associate and myself attended the DATE conference to meet people and try to get new leads. This year, the conference took place in Dresden, Germany, which is at the heart of the “Silicon Saxony”, with no less than 40,000 jobs mostly in the semiconductor industry, so we were expecting a lot. If you’re not familiar with the conference, according to their website, “DATE combines the world’s favorite electronic systems design and test conference with an international exhibition for electronic design, automation and test, from system-level hardware and software implementation right down to integrated circuit design.” We had high expectations, and in the end we were quite disappointed. Granted, receptions (exhibition reception and DATE party) featured very good food and the party even included a visit of Volkswagen’s awesome luxury car plant. The staff was professional and nice, and we were lucky to have a neighbor who gave us an interesting perspective and helpful advice. What about the actual exhibition?

First, DATE is not cheap. Special start-up price is 2K€ ($2.7K). I just looked up DAC, it has a special “first exhibitor” package, for a mere $1.5K. DAC is about three times bigger, too. Concerning attendance, I was able to find numbers here and on the websites for the previous editions. There were 625 exhibition visitors in 2010, increased to 890 in 2011 (probably due to the presence of GlobalFoundries), and 800 in 2012 and 2013; the number of conference attendees has been around 1,300 and now is around 1,400. I couldn’t find any other statistics. By contrast, DAC compiles in-depth statistics about its visitors, including demographics and an event audit.

DATE is 75% more expensive and 3x smaller than DAC. Hmm. This means that to be worth your time and money, exhibiting at DATE would have to get you several quality leads, right? Smaller is not necessarily bad, if you expect the conference to be well-focused on semiconductor, EDA, IP, design, verification. Sadly, this is not the case. Not one of the Big Three in EDA was exhibiting. No IP companies (ARM, Arteris, Sonics) either. That could still be ok, as it should not prevent semiconductor professionals from visiting the exhibition area. Let’s go back to the numbers.

The total attendance only tells part of the story. Since we are a company, we are more interested in “exhibits only” attendees: in this case, DATE has 800 exhibition visitors versus 2,400 for DAC. What proportion of these actually visited the exhibition area? No statistics here, only a rough estimation. We must have seen at most 100 people walking around our corner on the first day, but on days 2 and 3, this dropped to about 20 people per day. Keep in mind that this is not the number of people who stopped at our booth, just the number of people walking by our corner, regardless of whether they stopped at our booth, or at the booth of our neighbors. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Silicon Saxony surrounds Dresden with 40 thousand people working in “microelectronics and related sectors” (Wikipedia). So… where did these people go? Don’t they or their companies care about innovation? What about Infineon and those 300 other companies?

Equally important to the number of visitors is the question: who are those visitors? What is the probability of a visitor transforming into a quality lead? Because let’s face it, some researchers might buy software, albeit often at a heavily discounted price; but students? They’re never gonna buy a thing, so you want as few of them as possible. Well at DAC, a mere 7% of exhibit attendees are students (12% if you count conference + exhibit attendees). Again no numbers for DATE, so this is only based on what we’ve observed, but a majority (that’s over 50%) of our visitors were students. And it’s not just us, either, our neighbors have had a similar experience. You tend to remember the occasional designer or professor, because they’re just so few and far between. To give you an idea, we got more business cards at IP-SoC 2012 where we were not even exhibiting, or at SAME 2013 where we exhibited for ONE day only and a quarter of the price. What the …?

What about DATE’s future?

The feedback from a couple of companies exhibiting at DATE a few years in a row is that the exhibition area has been shrinking. The supposed 800 visitors are like dark silicon: they’re here, they’re just not active. Based on the exhibit/conference attendees ratio (around 2 at DAC, versus 0.5 at DATE), I see two possibilities:

  1. either DATE recognizes that the industry needs a European show focused on EDA/semiconductor, like a DAC for the EU, and puts a strong focus on exhibition, reducing the size of the conference and/or attracting more professional exhibition visitors in an attempt to increase that exhibition/conference ratio,
  2. or DATE stays a conference focused on academia with an accessory exhibition area, gets used to dwindling numbers of exhibitors, and gets to keep widening the gap between research and the needs of the industry.

Your call, DATE.

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