Insights from TechBrew, a series of networking events for emerging technopreneurs

The system map on youth unemployment has outlined a myriad of obstacles faced by the young people in finding work. Many of our youths have been observed to have limited skills, including job search skills and poor labour market information, among others. Amidst these challenges and to accelerate learnings on strategic risks and the development of systemic solutions, the Accelerator Lab Bhutan is engaging in a portfolio design approach to develop a portfolio of interventions.

One portfolio centered around the digital and creative economy, wherein we explored a ‘trial networking space’, aimed at bringing together the existing and emerging technopreneurs to connect, share insights and learn from each other.

Why digital and creative economy?

In Bhutan where the government has made it a priority to sustain both tangible and intangible aspects of its culture, the country’s art and cultural resources can be economic assets for the creative economy. Likewise, if well nurtured, the digital industry can stimulate innovation and job creation that can drive inclusive, sustainable growth as work in this sector tends to favour youth and women compared to other sectors.

Why networking?

With the tech and creative community in Bhutan mushrooming , an increasing number of tech savvy individuals are looking to meet like-minded digital gurus and their counterparts, network, get inspired and learn more about their industry. Unfortunately, there is limited space and avenues to support such a sharing and learning atmosphere.

To spark conversations, exchange of ideas and create a learning atmosphere, UNDP partnered with Thimphu Techpark, Innovate Bhutan, Bhutan Youth Development Fund and Innotech Druk Holding and Investments (DHI) to create a trial space for networking. The initiative was supported by the Fifteenth Session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD15) and the Government of Canada. Participants were able to attend the Ministerial roundtable of UNCTAD 15 on Harnessing frontier technologies for shared prosperity, which provided food for thought for the networking conversations.

Who participated?

A series of four events were organized in October 2021, bringing together over 200 up-and-coming techies and technopreneurs from the creative economy. Majority of them (60%) were university graduates with around 40% of them women. The average age of the participants was 23 but some were as young as 17. For 63% of the participants, it was their first time taking part in a networking event.

Did it help? Several online pre and post-event surveys along with in depth interviews were initiated to gather feedback from the attendees. And here are the key takeaways.

Informality works. The low-key, casual gathering turned out to be a safe and relaxing space for the participants to open up to each other. Nearly 90% of the attendees felt that the informal nature of the events helped them drop their guard and converse, engage and connect freely.

A dedicated social media page brought together a community of tech practitioners. However, the online community required constant support with in-person casual meetups to provide a tangible interaction experience, allow more sharing and encourage collaborative ways of working on shared interests.

Having speakers was a plus point. Though the meetups were designed just for networking and socializing, at times leading tech experts, both local and international, were brought in to speak to the gathering . Almost all attendees recommended having at least one speaker to enrich the networking sessions.

Failure stories by the speakers were a hit among the attendees. There was a complete agreement (100%) among the participants that failures are what shape our careers and revisiting them can only strengthen us and those around us.

“Reflection on failures foster innovation…”, “…sometimes we just need to know that we are not alone…”, “…it helps us to get into a problem-solving frame of mind…”, and “…open and honest conversations about the of tech business can help me prepare for my own journey…” These are some of the reflections shared by some of the participants.

Smaller and thematic networking events requested. To enable attendees to find more valuable connections, more focused, intimate and theme-specific events are preferred. Majority (80%) of the attendees saw value in having smaller events with around 7 to 10 participants.

In person networking events are preferred. In terms of effectiveness, an overwhelming 85% of the participants said that they prefer in person networking as opposed to virtual one. “Networking when done in person helps me find a stronger emotional connection,” stated one of the participants.

Networking events can be more. The event inspired students and enthusiasts to get into digital and new streams of job opportunities, such as content creators and writers.

Regularity is essential. Reconnections were rare (5%) due to the abrupt end of the events by the end of October. Hence, sustained networking opportunities are critical for maximizing impact.

What’s next?

All in all, when it comes to networking, the medium we utilize is an important factor. While social media may be one of the most influential platforms for networking, in person networking events are equally effective, if not more. Learnings from the trial meetup served the Thimphu Techpark, YDF and Innotech with the significance of organising such meetups and useful lessons to undergo similar but more effective events in future.

By Tshoki Zangmo, Head of Exploration and Sonam Choki, Innovation and Solution Mapper

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