Catherine, tell us about Attendable. What is your mission?
“Attendable is a specialist inclusive events agency. Inclusion is at the heart of every event we deliver for our clients. We produce large-scale, multi-national B2B conferences, webinars and awards programmes that push the boundaries of digital accessibility and inclusion and focus on genuine audience engagement. Our mix of event management techniques means that every detail is covered, from event design, content planning, and speaker rehearsals to live captions and sign language.
“We set out to deliver not only awesome events for our clients, but also to make those events more inclusive for diverse audiences. So, we help our clients to remove the barriers that might stop certain groups from taking part in events – whether that is making sure content is accessible for someone with a visual or hearing impairment or ensuring diversity of inclusion so that women and people of colour are represented, for example. Your content must reflect your audience.”
What inspired you to launch the business during lockdown?
“We were inspired to set up Attendable as the pandemic struck as we realised that far too many people were being excluded from the virtual world by inaccessible digital event platforms, just as access was needed most.
“Given my background in the diversity and inclusion space, we knew we had the skills and vision to make the virtual world more accessible and inclusive to diverse audiences online. I had been working on some large-scale in-person events and we were able to pivot to online quite quickly. Some of the events we were working on were for the tech industry so our clients were naturally quite open to using tech to deliver those events.
“It was pretty much right away that we saw the potential for Attendable. And it was while everyone was scrambling to find ways to connect meaningfully with their audiences that we felt really strongly and passionately that we needed to do that in an inclusive way. We’ve been blown away by the response and by the support we’ve received from the sector.”
What have you been up to since launching? What different projects have you been working on?
“One of our focuses has been large-scale conferences that push the boundaries of digital accessibility. We produce and deliver Inclusive Africa, which is a continent-wide event to advance digital accessibility and assistive technology in Africa. Accessibility is a global issue and we have had the pleasure of shaping this event for several years now.
“We also deliver AbilityNet TechShare Pro, Europe’s leading accessibility and inclusion conference. This year’s event was sponsored by Google, Meta and Sony, and we had a packed schedule, including Apple’s chief accessibility officer Sarah Herrlinger, HSBC’s UK CEO Ian Stuart and Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon to speak about how business benefits from investing in inclusion. The event sets out a digital world accessible to all and it’s a great one to be involved in.
“We also devise and deliver a range of awards ceremonies, including the Celebrating Neurodiversity Awards, organised by Genius Within, and the RIDI Awards, run by the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative, which is about recognising disability positivity and removing the barriers to the recruitment and employee retention process.”
What does the next year look like?
“We have effectively become the in-house events team for some of our clients so we produce regular events for them, which means we’re able to focus on tailoring the experience each time and making the content even more engaging.
“I think organisations are increasingly realising that by taking events into the virtual world, you can do them more often and improve your engagement. As a result, we’re seeing more businesses want to produce regular seminars and recognise innovation with annual award initiatives. We’re also seeing a massive increase in the demand for accessibility, so I expect that side of our work to grow.”
Attendable made the finals for the national StartUp Awards. What did you take away from the experience?
“The StartUp Awards National Series was launched to recognise the booming startup scene across the UK, which has accelerated since the pandemic began. In 2020, when most of the world was shutting down, more than 400,000 startups were set up in Britain, which is incredible really.
“We were delighted to make it to the finals. There was stiff competition with over 2,500 applications so it felt like a real achievement. I think it showed us that we weren’t alone.
“There were moments in the early days of Attendable when we wondered if we were doing the right thing – setting up a business during a pandemic with huge unknowns. However, the sheer volume of phenomenal startups out there was evidence of the huge post-pandemic shift in people’s desires to take on new projects and set up businesses against the odds. It was the right time to build Attendable.”
Tell us about some of the highs and lows of establishing Attendable.
“Being a StartUp Awards finalist was certainly a highlight for us. Working with my brilliant team has been a highlight too, but finding the best people is always a challenge. We have received so much support from the sector and our clients, which is great.
“The most rewarding part of our work is seeing the event come together, no matter what it has taken to get there. There are moments of huge pride when we see the speakers connecting with the audience, especially when we have worked hard to ensure everyone has the right support in place and the right people are in the room.
“Delivering events can be very time-consuming and when you are a small team it can sometimes feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Part of the challenge is trying to grow the business and the team at the same time. I’m sure all small businesses can relate to that.”
Do you have any advice for fellow startups in the events sector?
“I always want to say yes to opportunities that come my way, but the main challenge of a startup is finding enough time in the day and balancing the business with the demands of life and making time for friends and family. The key, I think, is to build a good team around you, remain connected to your peers and the wider sector you work in, and delegate!
“It’s also important to keep up-to-date with the latest technology and best practices. So much has changed as a result of the pandemic in a relatively short space of time – how we do business and how we want to work. This applies to attending events too. You need to keep your finger on the pulse or you’ll get left behind.
“During my professional life, I’ve also learned that being specialised in a particular niche is really important. People prefer to hire experts, not generalists, so align your business to your area of expertise.”
What about businesses that run or are considering launching events?
“I’d encourage businesses to think about their events and audiences broadly and to make sure you’re meeting their needs. It’s a business imperative to make what you’re doing as accessible and inclusive as possible.
“Have you thought about how you ensure your content is accessible to someone who is blind, deaf or Neurodiverse? Do you have an inclusive range of content and speakers at your events? Just asking people what you can do to help them engage with what you do is often a good first step.
“Think about it at the start of the process and you’ll get a better result. Everyone benefits when organisations are more inclusive, and every aspect of the business benefits, so why wouldn’t you?”