The desire for meaningful connections in business contexts is high. While PhD graduates struggle to bridge the gap between research and industry* mainly because they lack the network, professionals in industry have trouble finding fresh talent for highly specialised positions. But that is only the recruiting side of this growing desire for connection.

When I say “meaningful”, I really mean “meaningful”. PhD students are not only looking to extend their professional networks. They are also interested in making authentic and constructive connections with other PhD students, perhaps because they are a little further ahead on the road to their viva or because they are looking for a buddy who will offer some sparring during the often tough times of transitioning out of academia. Likewise, professionals are looking to meet other professionals to widen their horizon, get some inspiration, or find a freelance specialist for a specific task. And PhD or M.A. graduates are eager to meet professionals in their desired future job fields and companies – and vice versa.

Regardless of their academic ranks or professional positions, these people are driven by similar motivations: mutual exchange, exploring the bigger picture, leaving their respective bubbles.

The benefits are both obvious and manifold:

  • increasingly self-directed career decisions
  • more trust across different sectors
  • uncountable opportunities: new business partners, mentors, startup ideas, new friends and colleagues, new (or first) job
  • suddenly open doors to companies that were hitherto closed

But how do you create such meaningful connections?

Especially, if you consider yourself to be an introvert and if you believe that you are “no good at networking?”

The answer you have been waiting for has been carefully crafted by Beatrice Zatorka and Kris Jack, the passionate founders of Smarttribe. Beatrice and Kris met at a startup accelerator almost exactly a year ago, on September 6, 2019. They had never met before, but they both wanted to start a business that would solve a problem that bugged them:

“Out of all the excellent, ground-breaking research that is done in academia, only 2% ever gets implemented into industry products and services. What a waste! How can that be? And, more importantly, what can we do to enable better communication between these two worlds?”

In May, I interviewed Beatrice for the first time. By the time we spoke again, just three months later, she caught me up on the evolution of their original idea.

“During the past months we experimented with different models. Feedback from our lovely and growing community was vital for that. We literally interviewed hundreds of people. The moment we turned Smarttribe into a mentorship program, our numbers just exploded!”

Yeah, I remember that hockey stick curve that Beatrice posted on LinkedIn to illustrate their growth ?

“We realised that we have zero interest in recruiting. We are not recruiters and we don’t want to be recruiters. And we realised that networking is so much more effective than blindly sending out CVs.”

So, how does Smarttribe work, then?

“Smarttribe does the introduction, so to speak. People from both sides register with us, tell us about their goals and intentions on our platform, and we match them. It basically works like a dating app. Kris, who has a background in data science, designed our algorithm. We also check whether it makes sense from a human perspective. People can star each other, we propose people you might want to meet, you can tag them, you can tell people you want to meet, you can specify your niche and your intentions. Are you looking for career advice? Do you want to commercialise emerging technology? Are you looking for a co-founder? Do you want to network in order to understand how particular companies work?”

Wow, that sounds amazing! Tell me more about the people who benefit from your service.

“We have people who are either still in or relatively fresh out of academia. 90% of them have a PhD, the remaining 10% a Masters degree. And then we have people who have been working as industry professionals for a while. 50% of our industry professionals come from top tech and pharma companies, such as Google, Microsoft, and Bayer – as well as from the top management consultancies. There’s a lot of matching between and within these groups. The only thing we don’t do is matching with HR people. As I said, we’re not a recruiting service.”

What are typical benefits for people who use your matching service?

“We have had amazing results: people getting referrals to colleagues, people who found jobs through their new contacts. We have our first company founded by two people who got introduced by Smarttribe! The results are just so diverse. You can read some of these stories on our website.”

How is Smarttribe different from LinkedIn? After all, you can just reach out to people whom you’d like to connect with on this much larger platform, too?

“The main difference is that we offer very specialised and proactive introductions. It’s a closed network. In the free version, you get one connection per month. It’s a gentle push and a lot of individualisation. Smarttribe does the first step, the introduction. That’s the step that many people find the most daunting. Researchers especially. Without meaning to rehash clichés, but a lot of researchers are introverts. And they find our service immensely helpful.”

I can see why! And then, what happens next?

“The rest is up to our users. A lot of them set up virtual meetings once a month. Sometimes they are happy just chatting informally once. There are no rules. But I think, what people generally get the more time they spend with us is that sense of community. We’re very international, although the US, UK and Germany are the most represented. The most important thing that we are told again and again is that people really enjoy themselves.”

So, my dear readers, to rephrase Beatrice’s last answer: The rest is up to you. Go check it out! Put out your feelers and start getting to know some of these people who are just as eager to explore the worlds of research and business as you are.

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