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Tampa company expands from conference planner to software firm

Margie Manning

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The eventPower team

Tampa tech company eventPower got into the software business by accident.

The company, founded 23 years ago by Frank Powell, originally was called Technology Forums and exclusively worked for government agencies, managing their conferences, before a spending scandal forced it to pivot.

Now, the company has three lines of business, about 30 employees around the United States, and $15 million in annual revenue.

Frank and Laurie Powell, eventPower

Powell, who is president, and his wife Laurie Powell, vice president of business development, described the corporate evolution during an interview in their south Tampa home, which also is the company’s headquarters.

Initially, the company was created to produce government events from beginning to end. Those events had hundreds of attendees, speakers, sponsors and vendors. Powell pioneered a no-cost contract for the government, with his company making its money from exhibitors and attendee registrations and hotel commissions.

But controlling the data was time-consuming, and while some software existed, it was fragmented — some for registration, some for contracting with vendors. Powell wanted one tool, so he created his own software.

Around that time, there were media reports on lavish spending at a government conference — not one produced by the Powell’s company. That led to congressional scrutiny and a cutback on government conferences of all kinds.

“At that time, we were running about 30 events. We went from 30 events to five events within months,” Laurie Powell said. “Frank had already started developing these tools and a couple of people started approaching me about using the tools. So by accident we got into the software business. We created these tools for ourselves, then this storm happened where all these conferences got cancelled. We started getting inquiries about our tools and offering our software as a service and I remember saying to Frank, what if we just attempt to market these tools and see what happens?”

Within two weeks, they rebranded the company to eventPower and rolled out their software tools at a Meeting Professionals International conference in Las Vegas. The business took off from there.

That was nine years ago. The government business has since started coming back.

“Now, we continue to produce conferences for the government and military and actually beyond, because we’re actually meeting planners and we can plan any meetings,” Laurie Powell said. “We now have our hands on 80-85 events. Some clients use all our services and all our tools. Other clients will just use one tool or one service.”

The company has worked with corporations such as GE, Hewlett Packard and Samsung and with associations and nonprofits including Feeding America and Association of Change Management Professionals.

“We work with Secret Service one week and the next week work with Mennonite farmers at the Midwest Poultry Association, and then another week at a Comic-Con style event where everyone is dressed in costumes,” Frank Powell said.

The company’s software has evolved over time.

“When it was started, it was developed for our team to be able to use it,” Frank Powell said. When we transitioned to selling software as a service, now we’re training other people how to do it. That was one of the biggest transitions for the company. Instead of us just doing it, we need to train other people how to do it, and we need that software to evolve so it’s a natural thing for other people to navigate the system.”

About 40 percent of eventPower’s revenue comes from its Software-as-a-Service, and 60 percent from conference management. The company recently took on a third line of business, after investing in one of its clients, the producer of A-Kon, a three-day Comic-con style event in Dallas that attracts 30,000 each year.

“They had a good program but they hit some financial troubles, because they made some poor business decisions and they were about to go bankrupt,” Frank Powell said. “I approached them and said I will buy out your shares and naming assets and continue the program and the vision you had for it. They were very happy with that … I know how to run conferences efficiently and effectively and how to make the budgets work. So I felt confident I could make that work.”

eventPower also has been hired to produce a conference later this year for the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, whose vision is to eradicate the stigma around mental health issues in the African-American Community. Established by actress Taraji Henson to honor her father, the event in Washington, D.C. is expected to draw high-profile celebrities.

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