I spent Friday at the IIBN OpportUnity Conference in New York. It was a remarkable conference, at least to me because not only did I learn a few things from the speeches and make some potentially useful contacts, but, well, I had a great time. That wasn't on my agenda.
What was on my agenda was listening to a collection of somewhat interesting, but essentially soporific talks on business topics interspersed with intense networking. I can't say I've been to thousands of these sorts of things, but I've been to enough to know how they work: early morning networking over coffee & muffins, then a couple of presentations, more networking during coffee break, another presentation or two, some form of lunch (generally with networking), another couple of presentations, more coffee & more networking, a final presentation or two, some parting words and then the whole gathered throng limps out exhausted, somewhat confused and unsure of the value of the whole experience.
The extent to which you genuinely enjoy yourself and leave, perhaps, slightly less exhausted depends on how many of those gathered you knew already. A reunion is less tiring than a mass introduction, but generally there is nothing to lessen the tedium of listening to presentations on various aspects of the business world. That tedium and the energy I have to expend on networking means I often find that by the late afternoon session I need toothpicks in my eyelids in order to offer the appearance of being awake.
That could easily have been the case with Friday's event, but it was nothing like that. There was networking – lots of it – but somehow it was less draining than I anticipated. As for the presentations – they started off well and just got better.
The quality of the presentations is down to the organization of IIBN-NY team. They had a good mix of topics presented and a couple of rounds of 60-second 'invest-in-my-business' type sessions. Then, in the late afternoon, they played their trump card when Mark Pollock took the stage with Nick Terrafranca of Neurorecovery Technologies.
Pollock, if you don't know and to be honest I didn't, is an incredible man. He had no vision in one eye from a young age and when he was 22 he lost the sight in his other eye. He had to give up rowing crew and so he took up adventure sports: trekking to the North Pole, the South Pole, up Mount Everest … that sort of thing. A few years later, however, he fell out a hotel window and was paralyzed.
Now with the help of Terrafranca and a whole host of others Pollock is on his greatest, but most grueling adventure – trying to find a cure for paralysis. He is simply an amazing man, the subject of a new documentary called “Unbreakable,” and a riveting and inspiring speaker. Well done to the IIBN for having him and for following Pollock with Jim Clerkin of Moet Hennessey whose easy manner and humor were exactly what we needed after Pollock.
Yet, despite how good those last two were I suspect that the most talked about speaker was Benny Magennis, a furniture designer from County Monaghan who was pitching his start-up company Whackpack Furniture. In 60 seconds he managed to get the audience roaring laughing and at the same time sell each and every one of us on the business proposition of his answer to the aggravation that is ready-to-assemble or flat pack furniture.
Of course the networking is the primary focus for those who go to such events and one thing that struck me about networking at this conference is how mixing and mingling with Irish people is just that little bit more relaxed. Americans are very good at the whole networking business, very professional; they don't drop their game face. Irish people are a little more likely to want to lighten things up. I don't think the average Irish person can engage in a conversation for more than two minutes before they feel a need to laugh.
It's how the Irish work and I happen to like that mix of light conversation and purposeful networking. I can't be the only Irish-American to feel this way.
Yet, I noticed at Friday's conference that there was a distinct lack of American accents. I don't fault the IIBN on this. In fact, I had a quick chat with IIBN-NY Chairman Sean Gaffey on that topic and he told me they'd be happy to have more American accents there.
So if you're an Irish-American join the IIBN and come to these events. There are real business opportunities to work with Irish companies – either collaboratively or providing services for them. And as much as these young – and they're mostly young – Irish entrepreneurs and business people might like light conversation, they're coming to New York for business, to find investors or business partners or customers, whatever.
If you're an Irish American with your own start-up business then join the IIBN and go to these conferences. You might meet a potential investor or customer or joint venture partner – who knows? At a minimum you'll have an informative, probably productive and almost certainly enjoyable day.