Speed Dating For Businesses

Jun 24, 2011

In business, time is money, and time was at a premium yesterday at a special event in West Hartford. Small businesses from around Connecticut gathered to meet with government agencies and big government contractors for a chance to win new work. But as WNPR’s Harriet Jones reports, they had to be quick.

Hone your elevator pitch and get ready to make a great first impression, because you only have minutes face-to-face with the government contractor of your dreams.

“It’s overwhelming!  It is like speed-dating – you have to get here early to sign up. We’re excited for our appointments that we have and see if we can help those companies and they help us as well.”

That’s Jill Jarvis of Erlich Interiors in Farmington – she’s new to the whole world of government contracting and she’s here at the University of Hartford for the state’s first ever Matchmaker event. According to the Secretary of the State Denise Merrill she’s one of at least 700 small business owners signed up.

“We have at least twice as many people as we were expecting. We had no idea, since we’ve never done one of these before. And they’re all starved for this kind of connection. It’s really that connecting people together. Connecting state agencies with the federal government and the federal government contracts with actual workers.”

The federal government spends billions of dollars each year hiring private sector contractors, and those contractors have to spread the wealth around. Jeanne Hulit runs the Small Business Administration in New England.

“The government is required statutorily to make 23 percent of their contracting to small businesses. The last statistic I saw we were at 21.9 percent. And importantly under the recovery act, all the money that went into the recovery act contract, we exceeded that 23 percent goal.”

At Thursday’s event, the agencies and the major corporations were lined up at ranks of tables in a huge hall, while the small business owners circulated according to their appointment sheets. After just a few minutes the bell would ring, and it was time to move on. It was high pressure, but it was working for Hilda Santana of Language Link Consortium, an interpreting and translating service based in West Hartford.

“I find this to be a great opportunity for me to network with a lot of companies that I normally would not have contact with. Here you have a face as well as a business card, which is much different than going onto the Internet and trying to navigate it that way. So this will open many doors for me.”

And some even found the date of their dreams. Tom Merino of Advanced Security Technologies in Stratford already works with Sikorsky, but he’s looking to expand his government contracting work.

“I actually got very lucky just now – I met with Raytheon and she had me highlighted on her list of companies that they wanted to meet with. So that was surprising.”

This may be the state’s first matchmaker event, but it probably won’t be the last. UConn now wants to host a similar gathering as it gets ready to launch its Bioscience Connecticut initiative.

For WNPR, I’m Harriet Jones.