Gathering Data and Building Networks via Conference Events: What to Do, What NOT to do and How to Make the Most of the Best Opportunities
As established last episode, we attended Data Space 2017. It was an education and inspiration. Obviously, there was a great deal of academic enlightenment on offer and as a fan of science, attendance alone was a privilege. On a business level, it was a pleasant wake-up call: illustrating the way to do things in networking and past pitfalls that are best avoided from here onwards.
So in a sense, a mere question of selection is one crucial key to a breakthrough success. Locate and attend the RIGHT event, even if that does involve some travel and minor expense / inconvenience to match.
In our case, Glasgow was not a mere walk away. We had to fly, from Bristol, with one colleague taking an additional journey to/from Birmingham (still cheaper than rail and faster) plus book three nights at a Hotel. It need not break the Bank and it is a necessary expense IF the event is both tailor made to your existing target base and potentially a doorway to new markets. In this case therefore, attendance was a ‘no brainer’.
Failing to attend would have been a false economy and frankly that is just as fatal an error as any initial overspend on a start up’s restricted budget. This was an instantly impressive investment in consolidation and growth of client bases and brand development. A skeleton crew of two, nonetheless. On threadbare expenses and hardly lapping in luxury so the challenge was to make the most of the event itself.
The Conference was held at the Technology and Innovation Centre in Glasgow. The headline sponsor was Spire Global and it was in association with The Scottish Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications and Scottish Enterprise.
So: immediately, an ethos of industry via academic innovation and vice versa. Gone are the days of feeling a lack of compatibility between sectors. One should feed the other and collaboration is key.
Granted, not all academic departments can have commercial literacy or autonomy. But they are at least beginning to acknowledge that need for economic evolution, at ‘grass roots’ level, in Universities, especially. Waiting times for procurement must no longer be a barrier to entrepreneurial spirit.
Timing could not be more opportune. There is a clear and present desire to build an awareness of space as a market in the UK, of which Scotland is a leading part. Deadlines on space ports etc are one thing but the Scottish initiatives are in a league of their own, particularly with regard to innovations in satellite technologies.
The tools of space based data are no longer simply a subsidiary or novel method but a viable, stand-alone AIM. We are in an era of adventure, with space as a gold mine and satellites the weapon of choice for prospective miners and colonist explorers. And every minute at the Conference enforced that ethos, palpably and pervasively.
The majority of the time was spent at our Booth. I cannot stress quite how important it is to have a decent ‘banner’: one that is eye catching yet clear in its message. Ours happened to showcase our urban focused market aim and the unprecedented visuals with which we can educate a client on the applications of satellite data.
The banner effectively did half the job for us: introducing the prospective client to our core service, before we had even uttered a word. That once again is a Eureka moment. I confess that yes, we have indeed attended similar events in the past whereby both the definition of service and the visual flyer to match lacked quite the precise definition and attraction with which we were armed this time around.
It is, to some extent, a question of learning through experience and trial /error. And whilst this is not an exact science, it now goes without saying that the polished presentation and refined definition are ESSENTIAL.
In addition, that must be harnessed in a PRECISELY matched sector conference. It’s far better than trying to sail against the winds of commerce, at a general networking event and with too diverse a mission and resulting deficit in related stationery!
We also attended the speeches /lectures. It’s a good idea to split the labour on this sort of thing: discreetly and respectfully texting each other at half way points to swap places, with one manning the banner fort and the other enjoying the performances.
I had the privilege of hearing Candace Johnson, (President of EBAN) tell the story of her lifelong love of satellite technologies. A speaker possessed of infectious enthusiasm and passion for the topic. Candace fought a one woman war to boost awareness and commercial applications of the tech, ahead of time. And she is still leading the charge!
Note that listening to a speech and networking are NOT mutually exclusive. These things are timetabled so that as the lecture ends, so a networking event begins, over a coffee /lunch break to punctuate things appropriately and coincide with the natural patterns of a working day.
I did meet Candace immediately after her speech and expressed my thanks. Perhaps I should have dialled down my own enchanted enthusiasm? But that’s better than lacking in engagement: sooner a surplus than deficit and no doubt Ms Johnson forgave (though ideally did not forget) me. 🙂
I was fortunate also to be able to catch the addresses by Tim Just (Head of Space at Innovate UK: the founding CEO at Urban Hawk, Robert Sugar, is also an assessor at Innovate UK) and Ian Downey (UK Ambassador, European Space Agency). And all wrapped up, beautifully, with a closing keynote speech from Emily Gravestock (Head of Applications Strategy, UK Space Agency).
So: a productive, purposeful and enjoyable 2 days. It was most rewarding in every sense. As to actual follow-ups and translation of leads to business? One can only speculate at this stage.
But what I can and indeed will say here is: of those contacts we have spoken to /e-mailed, all are to some extent ‘warm’ leads. Cue confidential and early, precarious yet nonetheless concrete and encouraging discussions with at least two (at time of writing).
Suffice to say therefore that it was perfectly appropriate to leave Glasgow with a note of cautious optimism and renewed vigour, as well as careful clarity in mission. And we will of course keep you posted on the more concrete progresses made as the weeks advance.
Lessons learned, so, in summary:
- Choose the RIGHT event! Make sure ideally it is a forum where people know the type of work generally done by you and your competitors. Your only concern then is pitching your unique spin, rather than explaining the lengths of the area itself.
- Be prepared to make sensible, minor yet necessary investments. Avoid false economy but of course plan ahead: so flights and hotel MIGHT end up being cheaper than a last minute train journey!
- Balance networking with learning /observation. Attend as many lectures /talks as possible, without neglecting the front of house / fort holding duties. Those quieter moments might be the very points at which you meet THAT Gold-Dust prospect who happens to be hovering by on a similar break.
- Always remember that you are on parade! Ensure to use the perfect Banner display / business card set and personal presentation. Polite, polished, professional yet personable and productive interactions with as many people as possible are order of the day, even if a few faces recur and some conversations are repeated.
- Consolidate IMMEDIATELY. Begin e-mailing there and then; proactively pursuit beats purposeless procrastination, always! MAKE those leads not so much ‘warm’ as RED HOT and FAST, whilst avoiding panic or despair or looking TOO accessible / available. Record ALL the e-mails sent and business cards collected into an Excel Spread-sheet with brief reminders of the connection and a target for its application (perhaps colour code in order of expectation?).
Special Thanks to Malcolm MacDonald, Peter Platzer and all who made the event such a great and rewarding experience (we cannot name everyone but we valued each and every contribution). And hopefully we will see you all again in 2018!
Meantime, at this Blog: Tune in again for the further adventures in business development at URBAN HAWK. Thank you for reading.