By MICHAEL J. MIKA
Special to Delaware Business Times
Business networking activities continue to evolve beyond the traditional meet-and-greets with business cards, handshakes and beverages.
Especially in the digital age, more emphasis is focused on face-to-face engagement tailored to specific topics. Today’s event planners are trying to ensure they leverage the networking needs of both experienced boomers and millennials as they begin their careers.
The trend is evident in Delaware, which hosts about 85 events a month, according to Eventbrite.
Researchers report that millennials are looking for meeting opportunities that provide interactive workshops and panels that can’t be duplicated online. They want to develop skills and keep up with changes in their business sector, as well as technology, according to a recent report in Media Planet, a national firm that helps create content for events.
Last month the annual Delaware Networking Station, one of the largest networking events in Delaware, had another successful run that attracted more than 700 participants and 120 exhibitors. Each year, the Delaware State Chamber partners with the Better Business Bureau of Delaware to bring businesses and employees together.
“It’s a good mix to combine state chamber’s membership with BBB membership,” said Christine Sauers, president of the BBB. “Nice opportunity to overlap and get both groups together in front of the community.”
“You see a lot of the folks you expect to see at networking events, but often I see new faces that are younger, looking to network outside of technology and digital apps, like LinkedIn,” she said. “The event is a perfect opportunity of face-to-face networking and it’s free and gives them a chance to get in front of senior members of the community.”
Kelly Wetzel, events manager for the chamber, was pleased with this year’s turnout. She said it was the second straight year that the theme was about building a digital presence. Their marketing efforts included digital advertising on social media platforms to attract new attendees.
Two Wilmington organizers have succeeded in creating very unique events that continue to grow in attendance and buzz.
Wilmington attorney Charlie Vincent, no newcomer to networking efforts in Delaware, has created two networking concepts in the past five years that have become part of the yearly networking season in Delaware.
Vincent is proud of this summer’s Millennial Summit, which doubled participation from the previous year to 600 professionals of all ages and backgrounds, who came to the Wilmington Riverfront for a day of panel discussions and networking. He said the intent of the gathering is to connect professionals and rising stars with others to make an impact on the community.
He and Robert Herrera, owner of the Wilmington coworking space The Mill, reached out to more than 60 regional organizations to see if they’d be interested in participating in the Millennial Summit.
“There are a lot of groups focused on young professionals and engagement, 15-20 active members at one time. None are really able to pull off big event like this,” Vincent said. “We’re friends with these groups and they said they’d be interested in putting event together.”
Vincent said plans for the 2019 event are underway.
Five years earlier, Vincent created Nine Innings of Networking at Blue Rocks stadium. A unique take on job fairs, it evolved from an idea Blue Rocks management saw at other stadiums and wondered if it might work in Wilmington.
“We started as a basic job fair at a ball game,” Vincent said, “and it’s grown every year. It’s now two games a year.” Admission to the event is a copy of a resume.
He recently established an umbrella organization, SpurImpact.org, to integrate these ideas and to plan for new ones. The Spur Impact Association is a nonprofit organization focused on connecting young professionals and inspiring them to get involved and make an impact in their career and community. “We help support and engage these future leaders through different events and networking opportunities.”
Carol Arnott-Robbins, a real estate professional and a regular at many networking events, created an organization called NEWS4Women in 2008. It’s not a media outlet, but rather an innovative way for women to meet and support nonprofits in Delaware.
“I wanted to create an environment, a community where women can come together and know each other and
help each other in business,” she said. “Our name is an acronym that spells out Network to Encourage Women Support.”
One of her signature events is called Wine4Women, a monthly gathering sponsored by a different Delaware venue to benefit a different nonprofit. This creates quite a diverse group of people who “sip and support” good causes in Delaware. She said the organization has more than 700 people who subscribe to the group’s newsletter.
Last month more than 30 people met at Kid Shelleen’s to benefit PlasticFreeDelaware.org’s outreach initiative to diners and dining establishments alike to limit the use of plastic straws. Diners are urged to request “no straw, please,” and the organization encourages restaurants to give straws only when requested.
Despite the name, all events are also open to men. “You want to do business with women, right? You need to go where they are and understand the power of the purse,” she said.