Funding information days provide valuable opportunities for applicants to learn more about specific call topics and, more crucially still, to network with research organisations and industry stakeholders active in one’s sector. The seeds of a multi-partner research consortiums are often sown following a first encounter at such an event.

The launch of the new European research work programme covering the period 2018-2020 will see numerous information events organised across Europe. To help you get the most value from these occasions, I have come up with 5 crucial tips for how to approach networking opportunities:

(1) Be active, be social

This is a no brainer, or at least it should be. I am always surprised when people travel vast distances to attend events, then opt to sit on their own during coffee breaks to answer work emails. When you attend an event your focus should be 100% on connecting with other delegates. Position yourself next to the nearest coffee canister and be prepared to start a conversation. Don’t be shy about approaching someone. Simply stick out your hand and introduce yourself. Personally, I find complaining about the quality of the coffee served is always a good ice breaker! 

(2) Think horizontally

Don’t judge a delegate by their name badge alone. Take time to engage with organisations outside of your traditional circle to explore what value left-field partnerships could generate. There are at least two good reasons for doing so. Firstly, current funding programmes increasingly challenge applicants to deliver comprehensive, multifaceted innovation solutions. Having an extended network may prove useful in filling niche project team gaps. Secondly, making a good impression and effectively communicating your expertise and objectives will augment the chances that your details are circulated within the wider innovation community. On many occasions we have been asked to join consortiums by a project coordinator who became aware of us through a mutual contact we had met at an information day.

(3) Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Make use of the networking and brokerage tools provided by event organisers to see who is attending, and whenever possible, to organise appointments in advance. This takes away the serendipity of meeting the right partners at crowded events, and optimises the time you have available on the day. When reaching out to contacts for the first time be sure to explain who you are, why you have selected them for a meeting, and provide a list of topics you’d like to discuss with them in further depth on the day, e.g. collaboration opportunities around a specific call or thematic area.

(4) Have something to be remembered by

Whenever I attend information days I always carry with me a non-confidential 1-pager and PowerPoint presentation on a USB stick explaining what my company does, what our specific expertise is, and what our concrete interests are in relation to specific call topics or competition themes. This not only keeps me on message, it also gives the person I connected with something to take back with them and review post event. A clear improvement on the alternative which is to scribble notes onto the back of my business card.

(5) Follow-up immediately

Don’t waste a second to follow up with contacts you met on the day where you see significant value in future collaboration. Use the momentum of the first encounter to organise a follow-up conversation to define the next steps in establishing a partnership. A short email or call will suffice to keep the ball rolling. For contacts where the opportunity to collaborate is not as immediately clear consider sending a short email thanking them for their time, and restate the research areas you’d be keen to pursue in future should the right opportunity arise.