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Business matchmaking is going digital

April 15, 2020
By The Explorer

When trade fairs and conferences are cancelled, companies can no longer meet face to face. Now, digital events are organised at record speed to meet the challenge.

Fresh thinking is needed in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, which is preventing companies in the same industry and potential partners from meeting in person. Here are three digital events that show the business community an innovative way forward.

1. Business matchmaking for EEA and Norway Grants

The EEA and Norway Grants is a funding scheme for projects involving cooperation between a partner company from a recipient country and a partner company from a financing country. In Norway, the scheme is administered by Innovation Norway.

Many of the projects that have been awarded funding emerged from a matchmaking event. However, in 2020 these cannot be held. Innovation Norway is therefore organising digital alternatives where Norwegian companies and companies in recipient countries can meet online. The first one will take place 6-8 May.

“I think digital matchmaking is a great idea for this event, as the overall platform for last year’s event was good, with companies providing clear messages about what they are looking for and what they can offer,” says Erika Pihl, who is sustainability coordinator at the Estonian company Estanc.

Estanc participated in a physical matchmaking that took place before COVID-19 imposed limitations. According to Pihl, online meeting places can be a success if participants are aware of the unique challenges involved in a digital conference.

“However, a big part of the communication happens during the coffee breaks, and it may be tricky to get people to communicate that freely online. There’s a risk that we don’t make as many connections this year, but it’s worth testing,” she adds.

Sensonomic, a Norwegian supplier of AI-based agritech software, is participating at the virtual event. CEO Anders Gundersen is pleased that EEA and Norway Grants quickly created a digital alternative to the physical event.

“Digital events are a necessity in this difficult situation. Even companies that are doing well will see a drop in activity in the long term if they don’t make use of digital meeting places.”

He also sees many advantages of moving an event online.

“Digital events actually help us to save time and money. I definitely think we can use this platform to establish a project with a new partner where we can test our technology with an interested customer.”

2. Virtual trade show and marketplace for seafood

The world’s largest seafood trade fair, Seafood Expo Global, was to be held in Brussels at the end of April. However, the Norwegian company MMC First Process and other registered participants received word in March that the event was postponed until 2021. The company was quick to create a virtual version of the stand they were going to have at the trade fair.

“Four hours after the event was postponed, we had launched a digital alternative for those who wanted to meet us. We’ve called it the Virtual Global Seafood Marketplace,” says Per Helge Devold, VP for Marketing at MMC First Process.

MMC First Process supplies systems for gentle and sustainable handling and processing of live fish. The company’s virtual meeting place is quite simple: between 21 and 23 April anyone interested can book a meeting with employees from the entire company at any time of the day or night.

“We found out that this was the easiest way to be available to anyone interested in learning more about us or exchanging ideas on collaboration. There are of course disadvantages in not being able to build relationships face-to-face or to have spontaneous meetings with people who pop into a stand at a trade fair.”

Nevertheless, he sees a number of positive aspects in being forced to use a new format.

“I think this is a kickstart for digitalisation. It’s a wakeup call in many areas and can help many industries to become more digital, efficient and environment-friendly in the future. To put it bluntly, I think we’ll no longer be seeing things like a workman toting his toolkit around the globe to fix a facility – particularly if the digital solutions and collaborative systems are good enough.”

3. Success with European Green Deal webinar

The European Green Deal is the EU’s new growth strategy that aims to transform Europe into the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, while creating new jobs. There are a number of green innovation programmes EU schemes and initiatives planned to help to achieve this. Under the European Innovation Council’s (EIC) Accelerator the next call is dedicated only to projects that help meet one or more of the eight goals set out in the Green Deal.

The EIC is designed to help high-risk, high-potential small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and startups to develop and bring onto the market new innovative products, services and business models.

Under the current coronavirus situation many of the EU’s EIC-related events are now digital. See the full calendar here.

Innovation Norway provides information about the EIC Accelerator and assistance to Norwegian SMEs throughout the application and pitching process, primarily via workshops and seminars.

“The cut-offs for the EIC Accelerator will remain as scheduled. To offer Norwegian SMEs the same services as normal we decided to host the information day for the next cut-off as a webinar. Over 220 SMEs attended the online event on the EIC Accelerator Green Deal on April 2nd. It was a great success,” says Ketil Lundgaard, Director for Private and Public Sector Innovation at Innovation Norway.

Like Devold at MMC First Process, Lundgaard believes that the experience obtained from digital events will open new ways of increasing efficiency and value creation in the future.

“The feedback from the companies was positive and many were happy that they were able to attend without having to travel. We will definitely look into the possibility of hosting more online events in the future.”

Matchmaking for energy and circular economy

Innovation Norway is also involved as a co-organiser of Enterprise Europe Networks' first digital B2B partnering event. The B2B event was intended to take place in Münich during IFAT 2020, an environmental technology trade fair, but has been postponed. Now over 100 companies from the energy and circular economy sector have registered for the virtual and free B2B matchmaking event on 4-5 May.