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Schmooze it or lose it Add to ...

Ragna Stamm'ler and Erin Hunt turned on-line matchmaking on its head three years ago with 25Dates.com, a Internet-based company that brought time-starved singles together for a night of rapid-fire relationship building.

Now, they are betting their unique brand of networking will work just as well in the business world with their latest venture SpeedSchmooze.com.

"Think of it as speed dating for business contacts - a highly efficient way for professionals to build their network of contacts and grow business opportunities," said Ms. Stamm'ler.

SpeedSchmooze.com's first event was a custom corporate speed schmooze in February at the Digital Music Summit, a conference for 80 companies including Rogers Wireless, Bell Mobility, SONY/BMG, Universal Music, IBM Canada, Microsoft Canada and Napster.

"The feedback was great, it was rated as the No. 1 feature of the conference," said Ms. Stamm'ler.

SpeedSchmooze.com held its first public event Wednesday in Toronto. Twenty six business owners and consultants participated. Ms. Stamm'ler plans to hold monthly events in and around Toronto. Expansion to Vancouver, where she has established 25Dates.com as a speed dating leader, will come later.

Business owners have long used networking opportunities to meet new clients and potential customers. But the idea of melding networking with dating was revolutionary when 25Dates.com began three-and-half years ago. The process was simple; put 50 singles in the same room and set them up on 25 five-minute "interviews" or "dates." Forced interaction removed the stigma of rejection, allowing people to get past awkward silences and pauses, not to mention corny pick-up lines.

Having experienced the success of speed dating, Ms. Stamm'ler was confident the business model would translate to the corporate climate. The biggest challenge in speed dating, she says, is breaking the ice. There was no such reticence with the speed schmoozers.

"It had a different vibe than the speed dating," she said "There's a lot more nervous tension when [speed dating]starts. We always put out hors d'oeuvres before the event starts and usually [at speed dating]people just nibble. At [speed schmooze] the food was gone, just like that. But other than that it was very similar."

John Passalacqua, president ExpoWorld Canada, the Canadian trade show directory, participated in the event and was surprised at how effective it was.

"The event was very good for us, we would do it again," said Mr. Passalacqua. "With other networking events, you enter a big room, and you make your way around. It's not formalized."

He said you can often miss the one potentially useful contact at a conventional networking event because you get bogged down chatting to someone who ultimately is not a match for your company.

"At least the rules of engagement are outlined," he said, of the Speed Schmooze event. "There are no distractions."

Mr. Passalacqua said he met several potential partners and clients.

"They've got a good format," he said. "Out of the people I met, one could be a key strategic partner, three could be clients and several others have potential. Twenty five per cent of the people there, in some way, had a fit for our company. Twenty five per cent is very good. I was surprised that there were so many synergies."

Mr. Passalacqua has encountered this face-to-face networking model before in European and Asian trade shows so he knew what he was walking into.

"I see this as becoming more and more of a trend in networking and trade show circles," said Mr. Passalacqua. "It helped me understand my business better, because I talked to people who are not my target, it was definitely food for thought and got me out of my box."

At the DMS Conference in February, Ms. Stamm'ler said that they were introduced before their session as "those speed dating ladies." She doesn't mind if people equate the two because she believes it sets them apart.

"It's supposed to be fun," said Ms. Stamm'ler.

Passlacqua concurred: "At the tables, there was a lot of buzz, it was a more friendly networking environment. There really is an element of dynamism and energy to it."

The more established Chamber of Commerce networking model, where people mingle in an open room with no forced interaction is "so not updated," Mr. Passalacqua said. "As a young entrepreneur, [Speed Schmooze]is a more dynamic environment. There is a sense of urgency. A desire to get things done."

Participants fill out a questionnaire prior to attending an event, and all contact information is collected. Business cards, thought not required, can be exchanged. The following day everyone receives a complete contact list via e-mail.

Registration for future events can be done at www.speedschmooze.com. The next event takes place on June 7th.

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