Building partnerships and networks: September STEM Lighting Lunch

September 18, 2020

STEM Lightning Lunches are keeping the momentum going with regular online networking sessions for the STEM engagement community.

Following the success of Inspiring Australia’s recent Virtual Excursions training program that concluded with live networking sessions in small breakout rooms, Lightning Lunches are keeping the momentum going with regular online networking sessions for the STEM engagement community.

The next catchup at 12 noon on 30 September 2020 will look at building networks.

Our previous Lightning Lunch in August looked at connecting with industry. Featuring three guest speakers, the online networking event attracted around 80 STEM engagement professionals who mingled in two breakout sessions, shared experiences and offered each other tips and connections.

Find the sweet spot

First speaker was Kylie Burrett, the Founder of Design Nuts Pty Ltd, a program that seeks to help make engineering design in the classroom easy and impactful. When exploring potential new partners, Kylie looks for synergy and the opportunity to create a collaborative advantage.

“I’m not just looking for money to achieve my aim or vision. I am exploring opportunities where the outcomes are significantly enhanced for both parties.,” she explained. “I love looking at trends, both intuitively and statistically. The sweet spot for partnership is then a collision of values, timing, resources and outcomes.”

Kylie cautioned those seeking partnerships to avoid knocking on people’s doors, real or virtual, without having first done their research.

“Have a very clear ask or call to action. This doesn’t have to be perfect, as at this stage, you are looking to open a conversation and the other party will often have their own ideas.” she said.

“Understand complementary strengths to build momentum for partnership synergy. Think about any timeline you might be working with. This will help you decide what is an achievable outcome. Do not think too big and under deliver.”

Kylie recommends working out processes for clear communication throughout the life cycle of a partnership and believes it’s critical to have a contract or written agreement signed by both parties.

Include First Nations voices

The next speaker was Melanie Redding, who provided perspectives from an Indigenous-owned business. As COO of Goanna Solutions, Melanie’s mission is to drive greater diversity in the tech sector via innovative education solutions. Her passion for building community and ensuring First Nations people always have a seat at the table shone through as she described how her business partners to deliver educational outcomes.

“When I am approaching a new partnership, I am always prepared to be in it for the long haul. Too many people just want the quick sell/win and aren’t willing to stick it out to build the relationship, connection and partnership, and then nurture it,” said Melanie.

In terms of helping others meet their organisational goals, Melanie recommends genuinely trying to find the problem that the organisation needs solving, and finding the win/win for both parties.

“For my industry, I find these opportunities on LinkedIn and through other industry conversations. I struggle sometimes with articulating this as building community and creating connections and opportunities comes very natural to me,” she said, adding that it is through those connections that the best partnerships have come.

“For example, I met a lady at a conference over a year ago. We hit it off straight away, and when she spoke of providing training for regional/remote areas with in-demand tech skills,  we both knew that an opportunity to work together would arise eventually.”

The pair kept in contact and spoke at least every month since, including about what each of them was working on and about life in general.

“Coincidentally and through this relationship, an opportunity to build training curriculum and work together may be finally coming to fruition.”

Melanie said it is important to research an organisation before approaching them.

“Ask lots of questions, be agile and willing to think outside the square to come up with a solution to their problem. You need to be willing to coerce them into a solution that may be different to what they originally had in mind.”

She recommended finding their motivation and investigating where an ally within their organisation could be and who has the pools of funding/budgets within that organisation.

“Be prepared to sacrifice initial profit margins for the long term relationship. And don’t get so emotionally attached to your own ideas that you can’t then pivot and adapt based on new information.” 

Melanie’s three top tips for successful industry partnerships are:

  1. Establish their reasoning: In this day and age, everyone is so ‘busy’ and already thinking about the next meeting, or the next transaction, rather than actually sitting and listening to what someone else’s needs are. Sometimes those needs are more for self-interest than for the greater good.
  2. Build a genuine connection: Learn about them as a person. Do they have kids? Do they have a partner? What makes them tick? Don’t always be on the quick sell. The more you connect and remember the finer details, the more likely they are to remember you when an opportunity arises. Genuine connections are not a “paint by number” or “program the robot” approach. 
  3. Work out the best way to communicate: Once you’re in the door, whether through a LinkedIn message or an introduction, establish the best way to communicate with them. Is it by email? Is it by text? What video platform do they prefer to use? Can you just pick a date and lock in a meeting and they’ll accept? Or is it just as simple as picking up the phone? 

Melanie said it’s important not to underestimate the power of the genuine connection. The old adage of ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ is today more powerful than ever,” she said.

Make a long-term commitment

The final presenter was Melina Georgousakis, a research scientist and champion for an inclusive health and medical research sector.

Through her role in founding Franklin Women, a social enterprise that aims to create a science sector where women thrive, and as the current Research and Policy Manager at the Bupa Health Foundation, Melina shared insights both as someone seeking industry partnerships to support advocacy programs and as an industry leader regularly approached by others for sponsorship,

“The most important starting point before you pursue any approach to industry is to have a clear understanding of the outcome you wish to achieve through partnership,” she said.

With Franklin Women, Melina wanted to establish a grass roots community to support women in STEM progress their careers through networking and professional development oppourtunities.

“I always pitch potential partnerships with this goal front of mind to ensure our values and aims are aligned. That is important to us and makes the relationship authentic.”

In Melina’s experience, partners can make great co-presenters for events and projects depending on their focus – she suggests having a range of many partners to bring in according to how an activity might align with an organisation’s strategic objectives.

To find appropriate event partners, Melina looks for companies or organisations that have an interest or alignment with the focus of the event which she thinks increases the value for Franklin Women and also for the partner.

“For example, if I am doing an event on career transitions, I might look at recruiting firms in the health and science sector. I would then prepare a tailored proposal specifically for them,” she said, noting that the partnership conversation should be regarded as a long-term collaboration.

“While your initial approach may not lead to tangible outcomes straight away, if you build trust and they know that you are reliable and deliver on what you promise, they may be more willing to partner on an initiative in future, even before it is fully planned.”

Melina believes that as partnerships involve a long-term commitment, people should expect to do a lot of leg work before a partnership proposal comes to fruition.

“Don’t end a possible relationship after a pitch is refused. Keep them in the loop with your activities, touch base now and then and invite them to a future event. You never know when they might reach out to you. Keep the door open!” she said.

Melina stressed that there is more to partnerships than money – in-kind contributions can sometimes be even more valuable than cash.

“When you can show how your project can help an industry partner meet its goals in a particular area, you may be more successful in securing a co-presenter arrangement that can add credibility to your brand and engage a new set of stakeholders,” she said.

Melina warned against generic sponsorship packs, regarding them as ineffective in securing meaningful and lasting collaborations. From her perspective as an industry partner working with the Bupa Health Foundation, they are much more motivated to enter into a partnership discussion when it is clear that the applicant has put effort into looking into relevant priorities and activities and tailoring their partnership proposal accordingly.

“You can tell when it is personal versus high throughput” she said.

She also added that calling upon your own networks once identifying some potential partners can be incredibly helpful.

“When I find an organisation that looks like a great fit for what I want to deliver, I have a think about if I know anyone who has a link with them, or someone I know through another contact who might, in order to ask more questions.”

Attend the next Lightning Lunch

Our next Lightning Lunch event will be at 12 noon on Wednesday 30 September 2020 and will address the topic: How to build your network.

After our guest speakers have provided short, lightening talks, we’ll break into small rooms to discuss experiences and share ideas around:

  • How mentoring can help you to build your network
  • Building connections internationally
  • Networking strategies.

Register to attend.

September speakers 

Stephen Rutter
At 32, Stephen had to manage himself out of a great job – he had built a business unit to $33m in annual gross revenue that managed the logistics of ALL the Hollywood productions that were shot in Australia. But travelling to LA every two months took its toll. So the best thing he thought to do was to complete an MBA. Not having a university degree was perceived as a roadblock to move out of the entertainment industry into a “proper” job. After completing his MBA, Stephen was seconded to Flinders University as an Executive in Residence, establishing the New Venture Institute. His most recent corporate experience was as founding Head of Experience at Sydney School of Entrepreneurship, a $25m initiative of the NSW Government to seed next generation entrepreneurship and connect 12 Institutions, 700,000 students and over 200 campuses NSW-wide. Now, Stephen has built his own innovation consultancy, The Scale Institute, where he and his peers are designing innovative learning strategies and product development opportunities with a varied group of clients across Australia (that all value learning) including universities, large corporates and SMEs.

Arti Agrawal
Dr Arti Agrawal is a thought leader on diversity and a promoter of equality for women and LGBTBIQ+ people. She is the Director of the Women in Engineering and IT program at UTS. In this role she is responsible for policy, strategy and implementation to increase female participation in engineering and IT at UTS. In addition to her work at UTS she is also involved heavily with the IEEE, as Associate Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion for IEEE Photonics Society.

Janice Vaz
Janice Vaz is an international PhD student at Western Sydney University and a mentoring recipient of the Industry Mentoring Network in STEM. She has spent the last seven years researching animal welfare and educating the lay audience about the natural world. It was challenging as an international student to start from scratch and build a network in a new place. She has overcome this by interacting with other fellow PhD students at the university who became good friends. Through her mentoring, she approached people and explored blogging as a way of reaching people. In addition to her extensive wildlife experience, Janice enjoys making animal illustrations and uses her social media accounts as a voice for the animals.

Jackie Randles
Described by an ecologist as a ‘creative pollinator’, Jackie is passionate about creating networks that deliver mutually beneficial outcomes for all involved. As manager Inspiring Australia NSW, Jackie’s role is to connect science and technology researchers and STEM engagement professionals with all kinds of organisations that can help extend the reach and impact of research knowledge and public programs. Building trust in relationships, brainstorming creatively and fostering enduring networks is key to this work, as is identifying new opportunities, finding ways to engage untapped audiences and articulating shared goals.

Lightning Lunches are free and open to all STEM engagement practitioners. They are co-presented by Inspiring Australia NSW, Refraction Media and Fizzics Education.

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