Dubai execs meet, greet and repeat with business speed-dating

The Life: Businesses court each other at a Dubai event that allows you just three minutes to make an impression.

Entrepreneurs interact during a business speed-dating session in Dubai aimed at helping participants start trade partnerships. Lee Hoagland / The National
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A set of black-and-white photographs sit on a table in front of Nayla Al Khaja.

Each of the three photos - including one featuring the Spanish actor Javier Bardem in a bedtime reading scene from the Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Iñárritu's 2010 movie, Biutiful - tell a story.

On the surface, it is difficult to see that they are actually business cards - until they are picked up and turned over, which is what Ms Al Khaja had planned.

"We are all about story-telling," she tells Ather Ali, who is sitting across the table from her.

Ms Al Khaja, a film director and producer, set up D-Seven Motion Pictures eight years ago and makes TV commercials and corporate films for marketing and advertising purposes.

Although Mr Ali, a manager at Pathfinders, a travel agency, is not a direct fit for her business, he says he can refer her to someone who might become a client.

And then a bell rings. Their three minutes are up and it is time to move to the next table.

This is business-to-business speed dating, a concept that emerged in the 1990s in the United States and Europe for romantic pairings, but soon spread to the corporate world.

In the Emirates, Dubai Media City started hosting business speed dating about four months ago and took it to a Tecom level event last month to enable more communication between companies, large and small, as potential clients or referrals.

"The aim was to create more interaction between and exposure of the companies among the various clusters," says Mohammad Abdullah, the managing director of the media cluster at Tecom Investments.

"For small-to-medium businesses, it is always good to have the opportunity to offer that and the outcome depends on you."

While only 43 companies and freelancers out of more than 3,500 businesses in Tecom participated in two afternoon sessions at the day-long event, Mr Abdullah says it will develop gradually outside the free zone.

The attraction among the participating companies was the opportunity to meet employees and owners of enterprises from various Tecom clusters, such as Dubai Media City, Dubai Internet City, DuBiotech, International Media Production Zone, Dubai Knowledge Village and Dubai Studio City.

Most of the companies pitched their services during the three minutes allotted to both sides of the table.

One of the participants is Zafer Younis. Dressed in a casual black shirt and blue jeans, the 32-year-old Jordanian is new in town, owns a company and is scouting for business leads.

As representatives from different companies pass by his table, Mr Younis listens to their sales pitches and introduces his company to them.

Called Top, the firm manages social media activities for companies including Nestlé, Motorola and seven telecoms operators. Mr Younis started the company in Amman four years ago and moved his headquarters to Dubai this year.

"It needs a lot of energy," Mr Younis says after the two-hour afternoon session that he and 50 others attended.

"I met more people here than I did in one month," he says.

Mr Younis currently employs four staff, but wants to expand his team to 20 in a year, including sales people.

During the business speed-dating event, he says he spoke to "two exceptional and dynamic sales persons".

He was able to generate two business leads, three possible partnerships with whom he can pitch ideas to other companies and two potential recruits.

"The idea was to see how other companies present themselves," Mr Younis says. "If you focus only on lead generation [during these events] you will be disappointed."

Ms Al Khaja, 34, agrees. But meeting people is the primary objective at such meetings.

"No matter how many clients you have, it is always good to expand," she says.