Take a walk with Rich Stromback and it's easy to feel like you're part of the Davos elite
Stromback is a venture capitalist who started attending the World Economic Forum's (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland more than 10 years ago.
This year he will host more than 600 hours of events, sessions and parties attracting celebrities like Matt Damon, Wyclef Jean and Tony Blair. It's a guest list worthy of an official event, but it has no affiliation with the WEF.
"Those people are coming here because they can have meetings with maybe 50 potential clients, or investors, in the space of three days that would take them ten years to do outside of this," Stromback said.
WEF hosts 3,000 official participants including politicians, business leaders and academics - but it's no secret the real action happens outside of the conference. The population of Davos swells to 30,000 people during the week, meaning only a fraction of attendees hold official badges.
Dan Vahdat, co-founder and CEO of London-based health tech start-up Medopad, is in Davos for the week without a badge.
"It's about connections," he said. "Every panel, you can just watch it later, but connections you will build and the face-to-face can only happen if you're physically in the same place."
Davos itself is an invite-only event, and even those who secure an invite might not be able to afford the cost of admission. Most badges require a membership to the World Economic Forum, which costs somewhere between $60,000 and $600,000, plus an additional fee of more than $27,000 per person to get into the conference.
The high price tag and exclusivity haven't been enough to turn away visitors who want a slice of the Davos experience. Unofficial events have sprouted up everywhere along the main promenade of Davos covering industries from cannabis to blockchain. There is even an app called Davos X to help navigate the unofficial schedule.
Sandra Ro is head of the Global Blockchain Business Council (GBBC). The group hosts a 5-day side event including panels, networking and roundtables, just a few minutes away from the Davos main stage.
"GBBC Lounge will be where many deals get done," she said.
Attending Davos as an unofficial guest still isn't easy. It entails a flight to Switzerland and expenses on the ground like housing and food are heavily inflated during the week.
But for some non-badge holders it's all a price worth paying - if only for the photo opps.
"All these celebrity pictures, Klitschko and Matt Damon to prime ministers of countries you've never heard of, I think that's kind of the highlight," said Jeffrey Joh, an entrepreneur who flew in for the week from Berlin.
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