How good networking events can stimulate business innovation
Talking to peers and making new contacts at networking events and conferences can be great for discovering new business opportunities. And when such events are designed well these events can actually help companies to innovate together. This is the conclusion from new research by Patrick Reinmoeller, Associate Professor of Strategic Management at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) and co-researchers Dr. Alessandro Giudici and Prof. Davide Ravasi of Cass Business School at the City University of London.
The researchers studied one of the world’s largest business matchmaking initiatives for small and medium enterprises; this organisation has 38,000 corporate members and operates in 19 countries. Members are invited to attend a three-day matchmaking event during which participants discuss new products and are able, through their networking discussions, to discover new markets, clients and suppliers.
Many participants reported that not only did they discover new knowledge and new business opportunities, but they also formed new business relationships.
Open innovation system and its orchestrator
We know that relationships established during encounters at public events can trigger people from different companies to form networks and start innovating with each other. In this case, the networking activities at the event had a clear organiser, but the event was open to everyone who had something to contribute,” explained Reinmoeller.
So, what exactly did the organiser, as ‘orchestrator’ of the networking event, do to make a relatively unstructured and open network into an effective and successful forum for generating new business?
Drivers of success: orchestrator actions
The researchers discovered that during the event planning stage, the network orchestrator worked to create collaborative engagement among participants. They issued regular communications about the purpose of the network, and carefully selected who would have access to it. They encouraged influential members to participate and contribute in sector-based ‘round tables’, and gave them the responsibility of organising and conducting workshops.
Event preparation included asking members to think about their goals for the event and write them down. Such events can be months in the planning; during this time, members attended sessions to reflect on these goals. They were asked to identify which goals would be complemented by other members’ goals.
The event itself is carefully designed to maximise contacts. All the booths are the same size, so small companies are mingled among larger ones. The organisers patrol the event to monitor the quality of interactions, and to encourage participants to leave their own booths and interact with participants from other companies; their aim is to create the best possible experience for all participants.
Effects of actions on participants
The effect of the organiser’s actions makes participants more aware of what they have to offer. Participants reported a feeling of greater trust in fellow participants, and a congenial atmosphere created a positive feeling about the whole event.
“We noticed that this improved people’s ‘sensing capability’. This isand the attitude that makes people look around discover new chances,” says Reinmoeller. “That is what led to all the new business opportunities and formation of new relationships.”
Reinmoeller’s study shows that well-orchestrated events like this can be incredibly effective at encouraging and stimulating innovation. But they work only if participants are encouraged to leave their ‘salesman attitude’ behind, and instead use a mindset of sharing ideas and information first. It’s also very important that participants invest in their networking relationships before the event so that effective networking happens during the event.
Read the paper: Alessandro Giudici, Patrick Reinmoeller and Davide Ravasi, Open-System Orchestration As A Relational Source Of Sensing Capabilities: Evidence From A Venture Association, Academy of Management Journal, published ahead of print October 10, 2017