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The Power of Networking in Enhancing Innovation

By Justin Rugamba

"Your network is your net worth.” This is important advice from author Porter Gale to budding entrepreneurs.

How can one create an optimal network? Dr. Jovina Ang, managing director of a consultancy that works with multi-national companies and government agencies, has some answers to this question. In an interview, Jovina shared with me very valuable insights on how to effectively communicate with the goal of boosting one's network that can ultimately serve as a catalyst to help entrepreneurs present their ideas to attract investors and followers.

According to Jovina, it starts by reaching out and connecting with people whom you think can support your innovative ideas. We can’t succeed alone. Smart networking requires effective communication.

"Communication is a critical skill for selling your ideas and getting buy-in from others,” she said. “It is through communication that we connect and engage with different people to build an optimal network."

Jovina is the author of Leadership Communication. Connect. Engage. Inspire. and The Game Plan of Successful Career Sponsorship: Harnessing the Talent of Aspiring Managers and Senior Leaders. Her communications expertise is particularly important for entrepreneurs.

“When you are an entrepreneur, you especially need to connect with people and build relationships,” she said. “ If you can't do that, you can't get people to listen to you.”

Building on Jovina’s points, I researched online how to best network. I don’t think it is enough to just have someone on your email list or have them as a connection on Xing or LinkedIn. A true working network requires cultivation and maintenance. Send your contacts personalized updates every now and again. Offer to help and ask for guidance when needed. Meet for coffee. Putting in a little effort can go a long way.

Key lessons and takeaways

As Jovina shared, there are key traits that characterize young innovators. They have great ideas to solve problems and they are able to advance that forward. Forward-oriented entrepreneurs should always be ready to come up with new ideas to solve community problems.

According to Jovina, the second important trait of entrepreneurs is having operational skills.

“I've seen people with great ideas, but if they don't know how to run the business, they're going to fail because ideas don't sell by themselves,” she said. “You need to or have someone ‘at the back’ to operationalize a lot of the stuff. If you don't have that, you aren’t going to be successful. This implies collaboration because you can't do it alone.”

In Jovina's view, young entrepreneurs shouldn't be working alone. Instead, they should be networking strategically in order to push their ideas forward. To do this, young entrepreneurs could consider leveraging accelerators, a group that supports early-stage, growth-driven companies through education, mentorship and financing. Accelerators can be found all around the world and are there to help young entrepreneurs with mentorship and possible funds to push their great ideas forward.

"Sometimes your innovative idea can emerge when you mix and combine your ideas with others’ great ideas," she said. "You may have great ideas, but you need funds to get it going because without funds, you’re not going to take your minimum viable product forward.”

From my perspective, this underscores networking with people who possess creative ideas. Generally, having great ideas is not enough. If you don't have somebody supporting your ideas - a sponsor or a mentor for example - you are not going to get your ideas heard. In most cases, you are not known or have a brand presence. This is why you need to be connected to the right people who can push your ideas forward. We also can’t be afraid of making mistakes.

Jovina also shared the importance of not wasting our ‘shots’ for a chance of success. This requires thinking critically to know when and how to move forward.

"Every moment you have with a potential investor is a ‘shot’. Every moment to inspire your team is a ‘shot’. If you don’t do the due diligence or prepare your meetings with a potential investor, you basically have wasted his or her time and wasted your ‘shot’. If you don't inspire your team, or you're not able to articulate your idea in a very succinct manner, you also have lost the ‘shot’.”

I always knew about networking, but this conversation with Jovina definitely helped me to see that it is critical to success. I clearly understand that when you network with people, you are in a way, paving the path to your success. Some of your network might provide financial support, while others might provide inspiration and positive thoughts. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open to learn.

I aspire to work with partners to contribute to the success of others. In the past, I approached building my network by connecting with people who are specifically working in my field of interest. After speaking with Jovina, I want to approach networking differently by being more deliberate and thoughtful in using networking tools, like LinkedIn for example.

I call upon young entrepreneurs with their innovative ideas to network with successful people. These will help you to push your ideas forward. It is not shameful to ask for support. Some of your network may be ready to fund your great ideas. Be open to them. Present your ideas and don’t be afraid to ask for funds. The truth is, nobody is going to fund you without knowing what you bring to the table. It is key to having a positive impact on the community.

Dr. Jovina is the author of "Leadership Communication. Connect. Engage. Inspire." and of "The Game Plan of Successful Career Sponsorship: Harnessing the Talent of Aspiring Managers and Senior Leaders". Connect with her through LinkedIn and Twitter.

Jovina is also a volunteer with Global Mentorship Initiative (GMI), a non-profit organization that provides guidance and business skills to underserved college students. We thank GMI for their support in sharing with their volunteers the opportunity to be interviewed by SNHU GEM students who are taking part in the Interview an Innovator program.

Justin Rugamba is a Southern New Hampshire University graduate through the Kepler program. He earned his Bachelor of Art in Communication, concentration in Business. Connect with him through LinkedIn and Twitter via @rugambajr.

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