05 Jul 2021

Convening to Connect

How inviting in new perspectives can strengthen a portfolio

There is growing pressure to make online events engaging and valuable for everyone that attends. This should have always been the objective, but for too many, they were simply a way to broadcast information. Since almost everything has been pushed online, the difference between events that simply inform and those that seek to engage has become pronounced. 

We certainly felt that pressure leading up to our Frontiers Lab Portfolio Perspectives event that was held last month. Being the first event of the program, we wanted to make a lasting impression. But more than that, there was a need to get the Teams and their solutions out in front of people who could give feedback, or even get involved. As the scoping phase of the program drew to a close, and teams look ahead to three months of prototyping, it was the perfect time to leverage the broader Scaling Frontier Innovation (SFI) network.

Each of the five Teams had done a stellar job at designing their solutions and planning for the prototyping phase. But we know that the BEST way to create solutions that will work in different cultures and contexts is to bring diverse people in early for a truly collaborative design effort.

So, how do you actually do that?

The power of movement

To set the scene, the five Teams presented their different solutions to a group of over 50 attendees made up of peers (i.e. other regional entrepreneur support organisations), representatives of the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), investors, intermediaries, network managers, entrepreneurs and more. Many were participants of previous Scaling Frontier Innovation (SFI) programs. It was a curated group of people with different skills and perspectives based on their locations and practices, all familiar with the challenges the Teams are trying to solve, and all looking to contribute to the development of solutions. 

We started with a live screening of videos from each of the five Teams, to give all attendees a chance to hear directly about the solutions being developed. You can find the slides from these presentations here

We then moved into the main activity of our Portfolio Perspectives event: three sets of rotations lasting 15 minutes each. During these rotations, we set up each of our Teams with their own ‘breakout’ room and allowed the rest of the participants to choose which rooms they wanted to attend. 

With this simple structure, our Teams were able to connect directly with the participants who were most interested in their solutions. This was a space for participants to ask questions, offer critique, and explore opportunities for collaboration and contribution. It was also a space where discussions about the broader ecosystem objectives could be begun. Discussions that have continued on beyond this initial event.   

We finished the event off with a 30-minute open discussion where people could continue to connect and get to know each other a little better in a less structured environment.

Continuous learning

So, how did it go? And what did we learn from it?

When it comes to entrepreneurial ecosystems in Asia, we know there are so many things to talk about, and it was tempting to try and cram everything that we wanted to do into this first event. We really wanted to avoid shifting the focus away from our Teams and their solutions, and making the rotations the main feature of this convening helped to keep things on track.

In a time of online meeting and event fatigue, capping our event at 2 hours rather than a 3 or 4 hour session meant that we (mostly) avoided tiring people out. These days, everybody has had at least one dreadful virtual happy hour experience so we are pleased to say that a number of people stayed on for the full half-hour at the end of our event. Keeping things brief and focused – including the networking – worked well to keep people’s energy and interest levels up.  

Each of our breakout rooms had a dedicated guide in there to support facilitation and handle the time-tracking, which freed up our Teams to focus on engaging with the participants in that room.  

Bringing people together in a time of staying apart

There’s nothing quite like connecting with people in person, but the last year and a half has shown us that online convening can be a lot better than we once gave it credit for. Yes, there are still creative ways for you to connect meaningfully with people who are working towards the same goals that you are, in areas that you are deeply passionate about. It is arguably even more important to connect with these people during times of isolation and loss. 

We know that solutions like the ones our Teams are developing can be strengthened through collaboration. The ‘hive mind’ is always a great resource, and the collective knowledge and experience of the SFI network simply can’t be understated. The solutions, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem as a whole, will ultimately be so much better with the network’s support. The entire Frontiers Lab Asia program is built on this premise and it’s something that we wholeheartedly believe in. 

Online. In person. Whatever works. As long as we keep connecting, sharing, and learning.