It's a week from the event, and I really want to write this post.
Disclaimer: I'm not affiliated with the Exhibition apart from being a student there for the past two years, and these opinions are my own.
The BTYSTE is probably the most publicized Irish science event of the year. With all the cameras around, your logo is bound to be seen. Better yet, people will be seen interacting with it, because anything goes at the YS, so it's not just annoying advertising.
There were over 120 prizes at the Young Scientist this year, many of them Special Awards (i.e. from companies). While people do it for the research/friends/experience, you can't deny that prizes motivate students to enter. There are a lot of Category Awards (72, I think), but still around 80% of projects went home with nothing this year. A Special Award is great for people who didn't get Category Awards (though yes, of course the sense of competition must be conserved).
More prizes -> more students -> bigger and better exhibition.
Sponsoring a Special Award gets your company name and logo in the Exhibition Guide (and on the website), read by many of the tens of thousands of people who visit the Exhibition over the four days.
Also, students who win Special Awards say the name of your company when they tell people what they won. "I won the Teagasc Special Award." "I won the Google Best Girl Special Award" I myself won the Intellectual Ventures Special Award (as well as a Category Award), but when telling people I always follow with "So I get a trip to Seattle", which brings me to my next point.
I don't really have a choice but to like Intellectual Ventures (IV) - which is probably their insidious plan (JK). They're giving me an all-expenses-paid trip to Seattle to visit their HQ, plus a visit to their Dublin office, when the furthest I've ever been is currently Germany.
Bribery, in this case, is a victimless crime. If you give kids prizes, those kids and their friends will like you. Unless you're actually evil. And even then...
The BTYSTE is a great event to be associated with, prestigious as it is. The nerds who frequent the Exhibition love it, and so they associate your company with all the other cool stuff happening there. Before the Exhibition I didn't even know Jack Restan Displays or Perrigo (etc.) existed, but now they've been heavily promoted in front of a captive audience of 1000 teenagers (plus tens of thousands of less-captive adults). Want to capture the teenage market? There you go.
it's an easy way to be cool.*
*Cool in nerd terms, which you may or may not be going for.
The Exhibition's pretty great the way it is, and of course we don't want too many prizes because that could lower the standard. But companies drop out (didn't Élan?) so we need a steady flow. Also, I'm not recommending sponsoring a prize just for the publicity. But even if a company sponsors without loving the BTYSTE, they might learn. After all, many students go in without really loving science and come out with a passion for it. Is it naive to want that to happen with companies? Don't be a faceless corporation. There are some really good things to stand for, and the YS is one of them.