So we have done it. Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) have taken our most successful physical networking event and ran it all digital. And we have done it very differently – by leveraging a platform you would not expect to be suitable for hosting online networking events. We used LinkedIn.

In June 2015, when Craig Davis, Rory Ford and I speculated that Canberra entrepreneurs might want to get together on a regular basis to hear from one another and connect to progress faster, we did not expect the overwhelming interest and momentum this would create. We wanted 100% neutrality for the event and in a true entrepreneurial spirit we actioned the idea immediately – sending invites from personal Eventbrite and MailChimp accounts. And so the first ever First Wednesday Connect took place on 1 July 2015.

Since 1 July 2015 over 5,000 people registered for the regular event and heard over 600 one minute pitches. It happened 52 times until 4 March 2020 when we had 240 people attend. It happened to be our “last First” Wednesday Connect physically for some time due to the global pandemic of COVID-19.

I do not like to use the term but at the Canberra Innovation Network we are in the events business. Last year we hosted close to 300 events with nearly 10,000 participants. Since launch over 50,000 people were through our space in Canberra CBD. We are of course much more than an events company, we host or run an incubator, different accelerators, coworking community and run programs that connect entrepreneurs and innovators to what they need to succeed. But the fact of the matter is that we are in the ‘people’ business. People and their interactions are at the core of what we do. The creative, intensive, productive chaos of First Wednesday Connect creates so much energy on a monthly basis that the ecosystem and individuals source inspiration, motivation and connections from it for the whole month ahead. First Wednesday Connect is the “pulse” of the ACT innovation ecosystem.

The COVID-19 situation has a tremendous impact on the way we do things. However, as we have realised, it does not impact our purpose, our vision nor our strategy. We continue to encourage our entrepreneurial and innovation community to be clever, creative and now more importantly than ever: connected.

So how do you run a networking event on LinkedIn when LinkedIn is not an events platform? Maybe it isn’t but it is a platform for networking. People already have profiles on it (most of them) and if they don’t – they should. There are interest groups that allow group discussions. An opportunity to try and do cool stuff.

The recipe (in making)

Here is how we have done it for the first time. Or more precisely, here is how our stellar marketing and events team has experimented to do it.

Step 1: Build Audience

Build audience first – invite people to your community group. Our LinkedIn group, called the Canberra Innovation Community was a bit dormant while we had our physical event space but in just last week it has gained 200 new members (over 20% growth). we leveraged our well performing channels and we targetted the community that already frequents the event.

Step 2: Curate Pitches

People do interesting things. Find them and ask them for a 1 minute video. Give them some help but let them be different. Diversity is far better than uniformity. Different people, different stories, different asks, different executions of the videos. The related variety. What binds the pitches is the passion, desire to better the world, the entrepreneurial drive. What makes them different is where they focus, how they are doing it, what models they test and how they go about explaining it to their audiences. The only restriction really, is the 1 minute framework. 60 seconds, no more. The dynamism is built in.

Step 3: Stick to time limits

Timing is so important. Same day of the week, same time of the day, same limits on pitches – in our case – always first Wednesday of the month, 5 pm, stream of 10 to 15 one minute pitches with intro from our Growth Team Manager and closing remarks from the CEO. You will have people seek the event. People will tell each other – it is not hard to remember when it happens. Start at the same time, keep the same rhythm. Fast. Launch video after video in your LinkedIn Group. Let the comments flow. Make sure people understand when the event starts and make sure you post when the event is over. Conversations may continue but it is a cut off for event organisers.

Step 4: Interact

Another smart thing our marketing and events team did, or more precisely Britt Nichols did, was to prompt text introductions about “who is in the room’. Funny thing: ‘there is no room’. It is just social graph of the posts, so one of the first posts is an invitation to “Introduce yourself.” People have an opportunity to say they are in the platform live and they are looking to connect with others who do X.

Interaction happens also on individual posts of the short videos. Presenters are ready to respond, accept invitations to LinkedIn Connect, which can lead to private chats. I commented on every pitch.

Step 5: Gamify

After the pitches are posted and interaction spirals, we posted an invitation to vote for “Fan Favourite” pitch. One click Google Form. The winner will get featured on our Innovation Station blog. Simple. Fast. Easy to understand. Engages the audience with the pitches in a different way.

Step 6: Close & Celebrate

And ‘That’s a Wrap’ post. As a team we then connected over Microsoft Teams to have drinks and discuss how we felt. Everyone’s experience was different. A variety of experiences.

The experience

Some people did not get what they expected. In fact, I would be surprised if anyone got exactly what they expected. Some people loved it and were all over it. Some people were confused as to what was actually happening. Some people offered new ideas and suggestions on how we can iterate the event. The engagement was amazing and intensive. I found myself actually really excited and exhausted after the event. Exactly as I feel when I am in the room. Here are some of the experiences (inlcuding mine) that people immediately shared in response to our “That’s a wrap post”:

LinkedIn Screenshot

We love experimentation. We love ‘progress over perfection’. We love to engage with Canberra and our region’s entrepreneurs and innovators and enable them to share their stories, wins, challenges and asks. First Wednesday Connect is our ‘puppy’ (something you adore so much that you do not want to hear that others may find it average or even ‘repulsive’), however, we did and we are brave enough to put it to a series of tests. We are brave enough to hear that people may not love it. Some were stretched and challenged. I was stretched and challenged. But the physical event too can be quite intimidating for first arrivals. I would have never thought that we could replicate the environment in a virtual space until I was part of it.

  • If you want to learn more details about the April First Wednesday Connect and watch the pitches – visit our blog post on the event.
  • If you are from Canberra or the region and would like to participate next time, make sure you request access to Canberra Innovation Community LinkedIn Group.
  • If you are an entrepreneur, innovator or a startup that has anything to offer or ask of the community of mentors, investors, entrepreneurs, researchers, students, government and corporate innovation enthusiasts, do not hesitate to reach out to us. If you are interested in featuring as a pitch in a future event, send us through some details at events@cbrin.com.au.
  • If you want to get inspired and challenged as you work on your innovative project or high growth venture consider joining the CBRIN Weekly Innovation Challenge webinars hosted by Dr Craig Davis and the CBRIN Growth Team.

Originally published by CEO, Petr Adamek on LinkedIn.