InXpo raises $9M for virtual events business expansion

InXpo said today it has raised $9 million in a first round of funding to expand its virtual events business.

The Chicago-based company lets companies stage events on the web with voice chat, multimedia and other effects that create an atmosphere of being at a live event.

This kind of recession-friendly event costs less to stage on the web than a physical trade show, since it eliminates travel and booth-related costs. Since the financial collapse a year ago, the business has accelerated, as we’ve documented at other events in the past year, including a physical gathering of virtual events companies.

The money for the round came from Highland Capital Partners.  InXpo expects to stage more than 500 virtual events this year, compared to 600 events for 500,000 attendees in its previous five years.

Customers include big names including the American Automobile Association, Cisco, Procter & Gamble, SAP, and bunch of business-to-business publishers including Forbes Media, PennWell, TechTarget and Ziff Davis.

As the business grows, customers are demanding more real-time services. Social media is becoming a bigger part of the events business. InXpo has integrated Twitter into its experience. Meanwhile, rival Unisfair announced last week that it was integrating Facebook and Twitter into its experience.  Malcolm Lotzof, chief executive of InXpo, predicts that within two years every physical event will have some kind of virtual extension on the web.

Cisco said it used InXpo’s Virtual Event platform to stage its Cisco Partner Summit and Cisco Live Events. Its Global Sales Event drew more than 20,000 attendees from 89 countries.  Highland Capital is the first outside investor in the company, which is not disclosing previous investments. The company has nearly 100 employees.

Besides Unisfair, InXpo competes with iCongo and On24.

VentureBeat is studying mobile marketing automation. Chime in, and we’ll share the data.