Not Your Mother’s World Economic Forum: How WEF Can Be of Extraordinary PR Value to Tech Startups

June 27, 2023
Michelle McIntyre
Not Your Mother’s World Economic Forum: How WEF Can Be of Extraordinary PR Value to Tech Startups

PRSA SV’s flagship online event Friday Forum broadcast in full force on May 19th with attendees from corporations and startups across many roles from executive coaches to media relations consultants.

The World Economic Forum, commonly referred to as “WEF,” was founded in 1971 and is best known for its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. However, as PRSA-SV Silicon Valley Board Member Karen Cage pointed out during her introductory remarks, the two are not interchangeable.  

I was attending a graduation that day and missed it but I felt like I was there due to the format, which was captured in this recording. Cage, founder of KLD Consulting and a former HP executive, gave a Coursera-style briefing on WEF, what it is, how her constituents leveraged available opportunities, e.g., an HP executive attending a regional summit and being invited to join the Africa Growth Council, and more importantly, opportunities for the rest of us.

She explained that the World Economic Forum’s purpose is to bring together businesses, governments, and civil society to work together  to improve the state of the world as outlined in the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals. WEF participants come from more than 100 countries and 1,000 corporations and include an additional 1,000 academics, government representatives, *NGOs, and thought leaders.

According to Cage, most people think of WEF as an organization for multinational corporations with revenues over $5 billion. However, the key message of her presentation was that WEF provides opportunities and resources for all of us. 

The WEF Strategic Intelligence platform, for example, is a free resource that provides topic maps, research, articles and videos for almost 300 topics. This is key for PR professionals as we are  constantly trying to get beyond endless paywalls: When you access Harvard Business Review stories from your search engine, your free stories time out. When you access them through WEF’s platform, you might see multiple full HBR stories that you can see fully without that pricey subscription. (As an aside, typically PR professionals do spend a lot on subscriptions. It’s just impossible to be able to afford every one needed in the course of serving multiple clients or a large multi-faceted company that has divisions serving many industries.)

Cage completed her section in 20 minutes, the length of a TED talk. If you weren’t there ‘live’ and need the recording, I don’t recommend skipping the “What is WEF?” section;  I thought I knew the organization but I didn’t. It’s also way more interesting listening to Karen talk, with her enthusiastic comments for PR experts, instead of, say, reading Wikipedia. Her voice inflexions were right on and made me want to keep going.

As an aside, being from the Midwest, I appreciated her business attire and formal presentation demeanor which added to her credibility. That’s not to say that wearing an appropriate t-shirt every once in a while for a Friday Forum is a bad thing.

Carl Vause, CEO and President of Hyalex Orthopedics, a venture-funded privately-held medical device company, joined Karen for a conversation following the “presentation” section of the event. Vause  was the CEO of  an early stage robotics startup when he applied and was accepted to join WEF as a Tech Pioneer (thanks to a recommendation from a PR professional that he apply!). 

This highlighted another key opportunity -- particularly for those of us working with innovation companies and leading edge startups – this program is based upon application, not revenue and reach. According to their website: “The World Economic Forum believes that innovation is critical to the future well-being of society and to driving economic growth. Launched in 2000, the Technology Pioneer community is composed of early-stage companies from around the world that are involved in the design, development and deployment of new technologies and innovations, and are poised to have a significant impact on business and society.”

Each year, over 6,000 companies apply for one of 30 openings for the Tech Pioneers cohort, according to Vause. This opportunity includes a two-year membership, inclusion in projects related to your field, and participation on equal footing with the multinational members. His tenure, along with his active participation in WEF projects, opened the opportunity for Vause to become  a Global Platform Fellow and an invitation to join the Global Innovators community.

I recommend you listen to the replay to learn more about these actionable insights for PR professionals and tech company executives. 


Michelle McIntyre is a PRSA Silicon Valley Board Member and head of editorial content. A ranked future of work influencer and IBM vet, she has been serving startups and VCs as a freelancer for the past decade. If you are wondering, Karen Cage does in fact have an MBA. *NGO stands for Non-Government Organization, typically a not-for-profit.

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