View From Europe: Virtual Travels

By Beverley Ferrara
European Representative

Even before the coronavirus, I worked from a home office. But while productive, it was when I travelled to meet people in person that I seemed to create the best and most long-lasting value. Getting to know people throughout Europe on their ‘home turf’ helped to develop strong and confident relationships that over time led to interest and investment in Wisconsin.

Coronavirus upturned the old rhythms of life, including my well-laid plans for participating in 2020 European conferences and events. But while my world of in-person meetings shut down, something curious happened: many of my relationships flourished. In fact, I’ve probably had more interesting conversations in the past couple of months than I had pre-lockdown.

It simply meant adopting a different strategy. With planes grounded, my colleague Karen Frost and I embarked on a two-month European ‘Virtual Roadshow’: a series of discussions with current and potential new partners and members in UK, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany. We also deepened our relationships with new innovation groups in England and Scotland.

We discovered some things along the way. Below, a few takeaways from our “travels.”

The New NormaL…

…doesn’t limit innovative thinking

We were thrilled to discover that enthusiasm for exploring new ideas remains high. For example, as a result of a brainstorming session with the Catalan Water Partnership we are planning bi-lateral briefings with topic experts on insights and strategies related to water, business and Covid-19.  We also strengthened our engagement with the innovation community, and are exploring a partnership with the European Water Test Network whose access to pilot facilities across Europe brings a wealth of expertise to benefit Wisconsin start-ups and TWC innovation programs.

…is still open for business

While it might not be business as usual, we continue to adapt. A few people in our network have been furloughed and some are concerned about how to work effectively over the longer-term given travel restrictions. But we are also learning to effectively transition programs and initiatives to the virtual realm. Many of us have also grown more sensitive to the benefits of supporting our member community and local businesses in general.

…pushes us out of our comfort zone

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In late March, when the event calendar started to crumble, we thought our world of relationships would, too. However, looking back, the lockdown actually enabled us to do more than we planned because, in our virtual world, we were able to arrange meetings with more people, more quickly. As a result of our conversations during the last two months, we’re now in a great position to stimulate new business opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic – in both directions. Call it a virtual win-win.

Always learning

I’ve always believed that real progress happens through nurturing relationships. I still do. But we don’t always have to apply the same methods to reach our goals. And I’ve been reminded of that here. Looking at things differently can help us discover new ways forward.

Come to think of it, isn’t that what innovation is all about?