Innovation themed networking to help businesses & stakeholders raise their profiles and find people who may be able to help them progress a plan or idea
Innovation Breakfasts are informal, low cost, informative opportunities designed to help businesses innovate or make their ideas and plans happen. They focus on a different theme each time, and provide Science, Engineering and Technologies companies with a network opportunity to make new connections with like minded people.
Hosted by Business Durham, the economic development organisation for County Durham, the Innovation Breakfasts take place for 2 hours (8-10 a.m.) on the first Tuesday of each month. Holding the meetings early morning for a relatively short period of time, enables businesses to attend without the sessions intruding too much on their working day. Hosting them according to a regular schedule makes it easier for the business to forward plan their attendance.
Occasionally, the meetings are held as networking only events, but generally, Business Durham identify a topical focus for each meeting. They arrange an easily accessible venue and an appropriate speaker and promote the event through their networks and wider publicity.
Sessions were originally held at NETPark, the North East Technology Park base for many ambitious, innovative, science and high-tech companies. Now, different venues across the county are used and encourage wider attendance. E.g. Durham University hosts two events per year, which has strengthened the relationship with the University and attracts more academics to network with businesses and other external stakeholders.
Minimal costs – staff time and occasional catering (£60 per meeting).
Some meetings are sponsored whereby a company provides free venue and catering. If meetings are held in a café, delegates buy their own refreshments.
Evidence of success
The meetings are popular. Up to 2015, about 10 events were held per year. They are now held 11 times per year. Each event is attended by between 15 to 30 people. This suggests that businesses find them useful and consider them a good investment for their precious time.
A specific example of how one business in particular has benefited from attending is Quorum Development Ltd, who saved more than £37,000 after learning about research and development tax credits at one of the breakfast meetings.
Being familiar with, having a good rapport and the trust of local businesses is important.
The event organiser/facilitator must keep abreast of current business issues to choose appropriate and timely topics for each meeting.
We originally charged £5 to attend, but it was too onerous to administer
Potential for learning or transfer
Innovation Breakfast Networking is a simple, low cost mechanism for helping businesses keep abreast of current issues while providing them with a meaningful networking opportunity. It should therefore be easily replicated or adapted for businesses in other regions/ countries. Key success factors for a transfer are:
• Offer varied, topical themes for the meetings, with guest speakers where appropriate
• Establish and maintain trust, rapport and buy-in of local businesses
• Schedule regular meetings at a time most convenient to the businesses
• Offer a range of accessible venues to encourage wider attendance
• Occasional involvement of academic partner can be beneficial
• Keep it simple! – the meetings do not need to be lavish and expensive to attract and benefit the businesses