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Entrepreneurs who show active networking behaviour give more business assignments to other start-ups within their incubator. However, this behaviour is not rewarded with extra assignments for themselves.

Entrepreneurs who show active networking behaviour give more business assignments to other start-ups within their incubator. However, this behaviour is not rewarded with extra assignments for themselves. This is the surprising result from research on network behaviour within incubators for creative industries by Joris Ebbers. Incubators bring together start-up businesses by offering them office space against favourable rates and conditions. Ebbers is assistant-professor of Strategy at the University of Amsterdam Business School and specialises in the field of Entrepreneurship and Management in Creative Industries (ECMI), of which he is also track coordinator. 

“I did this study on four locations where Bureau Broedplaatsen was involved, an initiative of the city of Amsterdam to stimulate and subsidize the usage of empty office buildings by business incubators for individuals and start-ups in the creative industries. Bureau Broedplaatsen asked me: what is actually happening within those incubators?  Is there an exchange of knowledge and business assignments? Do the embedded businesses profit from sharing a building? This matched with my interest in researching networking behaviour. I am especially interested in which kind of networking is most profitable. Networking is hard to investigate as it mostly happens informally, below the surface and it is difficult to grasp. With my research I try to discover hidden structures.” 

Business cards

“I have always wondered if it’s useful how some people visit networking events and hand out a pile of business cards. In my own environment I have associates who are always trying to introduce people to each other when they share an interest or can be beneficial to one another in any other way. This networking attitude I call altruistic networking or tertius iungens orientation (TIO), because I use the same construct as the study that researched this behaviour for the prediction of employee involvement in innovation within firms. I call it altruistic because it seems to me that these people are not networking for their own benefit, as they do with a regular networking orientation.” 

“Altruistic networkers shows a different attitude: can I help others? My study shows a positive relation between this altruistic networking behaviour and the number of assignments these entrepreneurs give to other businesses within the incubator. I was surprised by the fact that this positive behaviour wasn’t rewarded with extra assignments for the altruistic networkers themselves. Although this study doesn’t show this, I can imagine certain personal benefits of a tertius iungens orientation: these people probably have better insight in the activities of the other start-ups in the incubator, making it possible to determine which assignment could be given to whom. This way a business can accept assignments that can‘t entirely be done by itself. But I haven’t researched this. This study was quantitative.” 

Size and ages of businesses

“The results are filtered for effects that could influence the amount of assignments exchanged within the incubator. For example, I checked the size and age of businesses and whether there is still a networking effect after applying that filter. Bigger companies give out more assignments than smaller companies, but strangely enough, older companies give fewer assignments than younger ones. I would have assumed start-ups would have less business to offer. I also take into account that creative artists often aren’t in the position to pass on their work to others. All those external influences were filtered out of the results to determine the influence of networking behaviour.” 

Optimal composition

“This study is especially interesting for entrepreneurs who want to start an incubator. Which kind of people will actually exchange assignments? Being aware of that, this can be used during selection. And knowledge sharing is also a kind of synergy. The better we understand this, the better we can determine who is a valuable addition to the incubator and how long businesses should be allowed to stay. Right now, I am working on research with a colleague at the University of Melbourne on how knowledge exchange works within incubators and the composition that would create the optimal circumstances for this. When entrepreneurs are too diverse, they have too little in common to share anything. On the other hand; when they are too competitive, they might not be willing to help each other either. It’s too early for final conclusions, but it seems that the horizontal interaction is the most valuable within incubators for creative industries. This is between people doing the same work on the same level sharing their experience and knowledge, like movie directors with movie directors, or producers with producers.”

More information? Email redactie-feb@uva.nl