x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Business brains seek their perfect match

Five women have set up a speed dating event to introduce people in the arts business wanting to expand their contacts.

A new "speed dating" service has taken off in Dubai - with a difference. This one is not for lonely hearts, but businesses. In the same way that strangers go looking for love in organised two-minute chats, company bosses can now try to hit it off with each other in a bid to beat the economic crisis. Match! is a networking event for businessmen and women in the arts with little time to spare but who need to find contacts, funding or help from other companies. It has been set up by five women, who borrowed the speed dating concept to help those struggling to make their projects work. Thirty people met in Al Quoz this week for the first event. Simone Sebastian, the compère, took the microphone and said: "You have exactly two minutes with each person before moving to the right. A bell will sound the end of each period. Now let's begin." And they were off. Saadia Zahid, one of the organisers, said: "People have to get to the point very quickly. You get to meet everyone in the room but, because it is so fast, you don't waste time. We all meet people socially at exhibitions, events, openings and parties, but there is a lot of waffle. Everyone is here for a purpose." Ms Zahid, of the Shelter community workspace, got together with Ms Sebastian, from the Traffic concept furniture outlet, Sonia Brewin from Start, a charity for deprived children, and Laura Telford and Xandi Eleazar, from Art Dubai. They came up with the idea for Match! after deciding that many people working in the arts had not crossed paths. After inviting people to apply, they were so inundated with responses that some had to be turned down. Armed with pencils and checklists, the 30 business people got down to concentrating on promoting themselves and their wares for an hour. Rami Farook, who works for Traffic, wants to drum up publicity for an in-store art exhibition. His first "date" was Steve Mueller, a creative director from Dubai International Financial Centre. They awkwardly exchanged idle introductions, establishing that Mr Mueller was from Berlin, where Mr Farook had been on holiday, before realising that 60 seconds had ticked by and they had not even discussed what they did for a living. Mr Farook managed to squeeze in details about the exhibition before the bell sounded the end of two minutes with him in mid-sentence. Next up for Mr Farook was Ahmed Arshi, a filmmaker. The two were deep in conversation when they were reluctantly separated by the bell. Mr Farook then met graphic designers, artists, gallery curators and interior decorators. Some were loath to end chats after the allocated time and lingered. With some, Mr Farook was clearly relieved when the bell signalled an end to laboured exchanges. At the end Mr Farook leaned back in his chair clutching a fistful of business cards. "That was so tiring," he said. "I got bored of repeating the same details about myself and toward the end was saying less and less. Having said that, some were talking too much about themselves and not asking questions. It was very good, but I think it should be less people with a longer time slot." Nabila Usman, who runs the Nabila recruitment consultancy, said: "I loved it. If you are in a room with lots of strangers it is difficult to barge up to someone and start talking. "Here you get to talk to each and every person. It is the most creative thing I have seen in Dubai." Shashi Menon, a strategic planning manager for TwoFour54, an Abu Dhabi-based entertainment and media firm, said: "It is great to be exposed to people interested in the creative sector as there are not many places where they congregate. I would like to see the concept include other sectors." Before leaving, participants could fill in forms indicating who they were interested in meeting again and would be put in contact with them through the organisers. The next Match! is expected to take place within three months. tyaqoob@thenational.ae