As soon as the term social network is heard, Facebook is what most of us think of, but it’s much more than just Facebook. Although Facebook has now become synonymous with social networking, an individual’s social network is the sum total of friends and acquaintances, people that may be called upon for information and guidance. In social sciences, a social network is defined as, “Individuals or groups linked by some common bond, shared social status, similar or shared functions, or geographic or cultural connection. Social networks form and discontinue on an ad hoc basis depending on specific need and interest.” (Barker, 1999) The people in an individual’s closer circle, such as family and close friends, are referred to as strong ties. Contacts in the outer circle, or acquaintances that are not in touch regularly, are referred to as weak ties.
Social networks are beginning to be recognized as one of the crucial factors contributing to success in career or entrepreneurship (García-Cabrera & García-Soto, 2009) (Granovetter, The Strength of Weak Ties, 1973). Globally competitive entrepreneurs rely on their social network of weak ties to access information and learn about new opportunities (Granovetter, 1973). Entrepreneurs with extensive weak ties in their network identify significantly more opportunities than an entrepreneur with a smaller network (Chea, 2008).
Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs have a limited number of weak ties and a large network of strong ties. An individual with a few weak ties has limited access to information from distant parts of the social system and generally a myopic view of the world as seen via the strong ties(Granovetter, The strength of weak ties: A network theory revisited, 1983). Also, entrepreneurs build relationships with organizations and individuals that are a part of their social network as they frequently interact with them and have developed a relationship of mutual trust, shared values and beliefs, self limiting the kind and number of opportunities they could access with a broader network (Tracey & Clark, 2003) (García-Cabrera & García-Soto, 2009).
Since many small rural entrepreneurs have a limited number of weak ties, that leads to structural holes in their exposure to market needs and opportunities. To expose entrepreneurs to more opportunities, the unconnected need to be connected by filling in the structural holes (Burt, 1992). Proactive network weaving, a deliberate process of bridging and connecting to extend one’s social network of weak ties, can close these structural holes. Network weaving creates new and richer connections between and among people, groups and entities in networks and helps participants to constantly learn about the assets and opportunities in and outside the network (Ricchiuto, 2009).
AMI’s Kansas Opportunity Innovation Network aims to weave such a network that would fill the structural holes for unconnected companies, communities and regions. This will be done by building the capacity to more systematically scout for opportunities and link them to the right partners at the right time. Doing this will help our clients look beyond their immediate market or region and collaborate with partners in other markets and promote unique, boundary-spanning innovation opportunities.
Innovate Kansas is being set up to act as an opportunity catalyst, boundary spanner and connector for Kansas companies, communities and regions wishing to compete in regional, national and global markets with innovative technology-based goods and services. The network will specifically focus on:
1) Profiling the innovation competencies, assets, capabilities and needs of regions, communities and their local companies.
2) Developing the ability to scout new opportunities, especially global opportunities, outside existing markets where center clients may have little to no connection access.
3) Creating an actively woven network of resources (technology, expertise, capital, etc.) and potential business partners that possess complimentary competencies who can enable center clients to respond in a competitive manner.
4) Facilitating the ability to readily connect and combine opportunities and other companies, communities and regions in innovative ways so that the response is greater than the sum of its respective parts.
Stay tuned for more information as we continue our projects in economic development, launch new services and advance the KOIN network.
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Burt, R. (1992). Structural holes: The social structure of competition (Vol. i). Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.
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Yang, C.-H., Chen, C.-J., & Shyu, J. Z. (2008). Innovation Intermediary for Creating Regional Knowledge Capabilites in Knowledge Cluster. Proceedings of the IEEE IEEM.
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