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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Inside the "Best of West"

It has been an interesting experience organizing and managing the Best of West awards program at SEMICON West.

The program was developed to replace the Technology Innovation Showcase award program that we have been running for the last 4 years. The TIS was a good program that focused exclusively on new companies and involved a booth fee to participate in the “showcase” portion of the program. The TIS Committee worked hard to find and nurture a small group of entrants every year and the winners generally received some good visibility for their innovations.

But the program did not grow and it was a struggle to find entrants. New product introductions had to be the centerpiece of SEMICON West and we needed a big, loud, prestigious vehicle to support our attendees and exhibitors.

After talking with exhibitors, the TIS committee, and influential buyers in the industry, we decided to create a more conventional trade show award program, the Best of West Award.

Key aspects of the new award program were: free to all exhibitors, prestigious judges panel, open selection criteria (based on financial impact on the industry, engineering or scientific achievement, or societal impact and benefits) and special encouragement and consideration given to start-up and smaller companies. The process was structured to recognize all finalists prior to SEMICON West to achieve maximum publicity and pre-show value, and select winner(s) at the show where demonstrations or detailed questions on the submission could be answered.

Some of the organizing issues we faced were judge selection and the judging process. We wanted to assemble a diverse set of judges including top technology leaders at device makers. We also wanted to involve academia. Fortunately, Bernie Meyerson quickly singed up giving the program instant credibility. Our editor friends at the leading trade journals all agreed to participate, even though many of them had their own award programs. One of the great advantages we had with the trade journal participation was that it gave us nearly automatic coverage of all the segments (we hoped and encouraged test specialists to select test submissions, packaging editors to select packaging, etc.). This expectation held true as the finalist selections had a wide diversity and represented a broad set of technologies in the industry. The toughest group to recruit was academia, but Godfrey Mungel and Dave Parent joined on and our panel was set.

Concerning the judge process, one of the biggest issues was the desire to balance the need for thorough technical information on each entry without overwhelming our judges with a mountain of work. As it turned out, it was difficult balance. We had about 40 entries, each one consisting of a 750-word long description, a 300-word summary and associated charts and photos. The judges’ document turned out to be over 200 pages, 2-inches thick and about 10 megabytes of data. We will probably charge a fee next year for the award entries to limit unnecessary submissions.

Another challenge was the restriction of entries to new products and technologies introduced for the first time after May 1. Several exhibitors didn’t like this restriction, some wanted non-disclosure agreements, and many wanted extensions to the submission deadline. Our members aren’t shy about strongly pushing their opinions, but we felt our process was appropriate to meet our objectives.

Another challenge in the judging progress was the requirement to attend teleconferences where each judge had to explain or advocate their selection to the other judges. This was required to best utilize and leverage the different areas of expertise on the panel. When the choice is narrowed down to just finalists, judges are going to have to consider entries outside their areas of expertise and we needed to find a way to support this. Fortunately, the judges’ discussions on the entries went amazingly well. They were able to share their perspectives effectively and I think the entire panel is well informed about the merits of each finalist. Our academic participants were especially articulate in describing their impressions (I expected the journalists to be most verbose and the customers most definitive).

Almost all of the submissions were well-written and of high quality. A few submissions included promotional copy and graphics that generated a couple of negative comments from the judges.

I am absolutely thrilled with the selection of the finalists and know that any of them are worthy for the Best of West award. I know all the finalists are hugely regarded by the judges panel and are going to receive enormous visibility and prestige for their selection. For the good of West, our industry and the entrants, I hope they make boat load of money on their new products.

We will be making tweaks to next year’s program. If you have any suggestions on how we can make the Best of West program more successful, please let me know with a phone or call or email.

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