iConvene Launches as First Online Marketplace for Small Meetings in Central Florida

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iConvene launched this month as the first online marketplace for anyone planning small meetings. Users can log on to http://www.iConvene.com and compare and book venues, catering and other meeting-related services in the Central Florida area - a similar process to arranging travel online. Part of the UCF Technology Incubator program, iConvene will expand to other major markets within the year.

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I never understood why I could book a trip around the world online, but couldn't plan a small meeting with the same ease

iConvene launched this month as the first online marketplace for booking and planning small meetings. Users can log on to http://www.iConvene.com and in minutes compare and book meeting rooms, catering and related services like audio/visual equipment and professional speakers.

"I never understood why I could book a trip around the world online, but couldn't plan a small meeting with the same ease," said Mark Thomason, iConvene co-founder and chief executive officer. The idea for the company resulted from the frustration he felt over the amount of time it took to locate and secure a meeting room for a non-profit committee meeting he was responsible for coordinating.

The non-travel meetings industry is an $80 billion business in the United States and a primary driver of the Central Florida economy. And while major meetings and conferences are almost always handled by professional meeting planners, Thomason and Co-Founder David Krinker realized that there was nothing in place to help individuals responsible for planning their own small meetings.

With that marketplace gap in mind, iConvene was selected in 2006 for the UCF Technology Incubator, a highly competitive program that provides early-stage companies with the tools and infrastructure needed to create financially stable companies that contribute to the local economy.

Carol Ann Dykes, UCF Technology Incubator site manager, said, "iConvene was a natural fit for our program because it's an innovative technology that meets a clear-cut need, and it targets the hospitality industry - a vibrant sector of our local economy. We exist to help develop high-tech companies and create additional jobs. Not only does iConvene create new local jobs, but it supports other businesses in the Central Florida region - a winning combination we don't often see."

The company has benefited tremendously from its alliance with the UCF program, as evidenced by its acceptance in the Florida Venture Forum's 2008 Early Stage Venture Capital Conference. iConvene will be one of 15 presenters selected from approximately 200 applicants seeking capital.

Thomason said, "At the beginning, we thought recruiting partners that provide meeting rooms, catering and related services would be challenging. However, that is becoming the easy part because they clearly understand the economic advantage iConvene offers by providing an e-commerce solution that's available 24/7 without the capital outlay." A few of iConvene's initial development partners include Maison & Jardin, Puff 'n' Stuff Catering, the Central Florida Zoo, D2 Entertainment, Photosound of Orlando, Inc. and Nyda Bittmann-Neville (professional speaker).

"It's hard to pinpoint a single target market for iConvene because it's really for anyone who plans small meetings - from administrative professionals and managers in large companies to small business owners and board members of non-profit organizations," he added.

Brenda Murray, administrative assistant and member of the Orlando Chapter of the International Association of Administrative Professionals, said, "I've worked as an administrative professional for 20 years and have experienced first hand how corporate America is changing. We used to have time to run all over town and make numerous phone calls to compare prices and amenities of meeting space. But in today's market, it's all about doing more with less, so we have to be resourceful. When I heard about iConvene, I wondered why no one had ever thought of it before."

Following its launch in Central Florida, iConvene will expand to other major U.S. markets within a year, as well as hire about 15 new people, including software developers, Internet marketing specialists and call center employees.

Terry Jones, founder of Travelocity, said, "I've reviewed iConvene's business model and technology in great detail and see tremendous potential. It's a robust tool that can expand as user needs continue to unfold and the company grows. It serves a need and provides an on-demand solution that's available 24/7. Consumers know a good thing when they see it, and I fully anticipate the day when people planning small meetings wonder how they ever managed without iConvene."

About iConvene
iConvene provides a unique online marketplace for anyone planning small- to medium-size meetings in Central Florida. In minutes, users can log on to http://www.iConvene.com to compare and book meeting rooms and order related services like catering, A/V eqiupment, entertainment and professional speakers. And soon, users will be able to manage guest lists, send invitations, track responses and issue post-event surveys directly from the site. In April 2008, iConvene launched in Central Florida, and will expand to other major markets around the country in the coming year.

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Karen Phillips
iConvene
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