It was quite a scene to behold. Yesterday, under the soft natural lighting of the San Francisco City Hall North Light Court, fifty couples sat across from each other at small two-person tables, gazing intently into each other’s eyes for the two minutes they had allotted for their speed dating session. Given the narrow time frame, most had a prepared one minute spiel designed to impress their potential mate, and make them, well, unforgettable. Then, a bell would go off loudly, and the outer couples would move one seat to the right to meet their next potential partner.
The latest chapter in romance in San Francisco? Not quite. Fifty of the couples were small business companies from San Francisco, and their potential "mates" were fifty tech companies based in San Francisco looking for ways to help small businesses thrive as new customers.
Playing Cupid to kick things off were San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee and Supervisor Mark Farrell (District 2), who greeted the speed dating participants and encouraged them to make beautiful business together.
The matchmaker was the San Francisco Citizens Initiative for Technology and Innovation ("sf.citi" – see www.sfciti.com), an advocacy organization led by Chairman Ron Conway to leverage the collective power of SF’s technology Community into a force for civic action. The event was called a "Tech Connection" and was the first event of its kind, with more to come, according to Executive Director of sf.citi Alex Tourk. Other partners in Tech Connection event were the Small Business Commission, the Small Business Network, the San Francisco Council of District Merchants Association, and the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.
"We believe small business is the lifeblood of the economy in San Francisco," said Conway. "Tech and small business are kindred spirits."
Tourk said that the purpose of the event was to bring together small businesses that can use technology to improve their businesses’ efficiency and thrive economically, and local tech companies who need to "get off campus" and reach out to new customers. sf.citi limited the event to 50 tech companies and 50 small businesses. It featured 45 minutes of speed dating, followed by a free lunch served by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, a sponsor. More speed dating was scheduled after the lunch, and mingling during the lunch with interesting companies met during the speed dating was encouraged.
"What a fun event," said Tomer London, co-founder of ZenPayroll, a company that aims to take the pain out of payroll for small businesses. "I came to meet new clients. There is a lot of excitement about how tech can help small businesses here."
"I love to connect," said Carol Ann Barber, a change and talent management independent consultant who attended as a small business owner. "I met good people, some of which I will connect with my network too."
Among the tech companies who participated were AirBnB, Appallacious, Avaya, Citibank, Koozoo, Global Logic, Matrix Partners, Shopseen, Sonic.net, Square, Talus Labs, Yelp, and ZenPayroll. sf.citi also provided a handy one pager listing "Additional Resources" for the small business participants of E-commerce, local commerce, mobile, payments and SaaS tech companies. From the looks of it, beautiful business music was achieved by the new mating ritual. Only in San Francisco.