They are bloggers, engineers and chefs – American women entrepreneurs who dream of emulating the success of Facebook number two Sheryl Sandberg or General Motors CEO Mary Barra.
And to smash through that glass ceiling, they have found a new weapon: speed-dating style networking events. No men allowed.
To shouts of “one, two, three – change!” and “one, two, three – switch!” ladies mingle at the first event organized at the annual women entrepreneurs festival run by the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at New York University.
Around 280 women of all ages and professions are given three minutes to get to know each other, swap business information and exchange cards before moving onto the next person. It is the business equivalent of the matchmakers’ speed-dating phenomenon that took off about a decade ago as a chance for the loveless to quickly meet multiple people in the hope of snaring a date. The room gets increasingly riotous as the session wears on, bathed in the beautiful light of a New York winter afternoon.
Pairs of women group and regroup like members of a ballet company, exchanging business cards as they go.
Some nod and smile, others stifle a yawn, break into laughter or screw up their eyes in concentration before the emcee calls on them to move onto their immediate neighbour.
“We make short fun, playful videos to boost people’s popularity online,” says New York-based multimedia artist O Zhang. Farther away, a woman named Milena, a bit older with a friendly manner, heads towards a young woman who has caught her eye. “Are you looking for somebody to talk to?” she says, introducing herself as a former technology director about to embark on new projects with Jacqueline Courtney, the founder of website Nearly Newlywed, which allows brides to buy and sell back wedding dresses.
The rules are simple, says Nancy Hechinger, an ITP faculty member and co-founder of the event: three minutes to introduce yourself, your business and your passion in “hopefully semi-controlled chaos”.
Rosemarie Gambetta – a real estate agent who wants to turn her blog www.cheapeatsinc.com about dining out on a budget into an online restaurant guide, mobile app and business – dreams of rising to the top. Gambetta told reporters the event was a great exercise without the pressure of meeting a man.
“Women are not used to selling themselves. You don’t want to come off as being too bitchy, you don’t want to come off as being too aggressive,” she said.
For Denise Courter, who left Wall Street to found www.FiDiFamilies.com, a children’s activities website in Manhattan, it was an opportunity to meet “inspirational women”.
“So many times, I went to conferences that were men-centric, and this is focusing on women and that is very exciting because we are all able to help each other up the ladder,” she said.
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