Six minute dates - ETH Zürich Startup Speed Dating

“What do you guys do?” a lot of students asked. Well, we match product data catalogs with AI for E-Commerce, to put it simply. An answer that sums it up, but there is more to find out. Some of the students wanted to know more. That is why we attended the ETH Startup Speed Dating, to provide answers to future candidates. And we did well. Startups are built on passion. Sometimes more passion than reality. Therefore Startups hire passionate people who are already in the Reality Distortion Field. These are candidates who have been successful at their attempt to break into the startup world.

Welcome. At the ETH-Dozentenfoyer tables are arranged in rows. Like the original formalized matchmaking process of speed dating, there is a small podium with a gong in front. From the ceiling, numbers and names of the startups hang on a sheet of paper to help identify the participants. The Entrepreneur Club asks for attention and illustrates the rules. In 30 seconds about 80 Students meet 30 start-ups that describe their own business. Both sides try to match passion with confidence.

The Entrepreneur Club is a student platform at ETH Zurich that aims to bring people together and promote entrepreneurial spirit among students. It is about developing new ideas, showcase the existing, finding new team members and exchanging experiences. It starts with a presentation of the startup, project or idea in a 30-second pitch in front of one single Powerpoint slide, limited by a gong sound. Some pitches are slow, some are very confident and some too fast to understand; the same goes for the slides. This is followed by a matching process, during which startups offer participants of interest one of their twelve-speed date sessions.

The gong decides. Within 30 seconds, depending on a yes or no, red tokens and cards are exchanged. Student says yes, employer scores a six minute date. There is not much time left for students to introduce themselves. We see smiling, nervous and confident faces. Searching for Data Engineer Interns and Senior Front End Web Software Engineers, we are willing to talk to students. After our arrival, we mingle with other companies and say “Hello” to one or the other. Almost everyone has a goodie or sweet at the table, to welcome the students and make them feel good.

The aim of the evening is for startups to find the future experts they need for their start or further growth. The visions and ideas from the beginning of the event are printed in a little booklet, helping to orientate. Six minutes are too short for an interview, but the short exchange shows whether the student fits the idea. Most of the participants believe that they can get involved and help shape something new.

The gong sounds again; the twelfth and final round is on the agenda. Many contacts have been made, the demand from start-up companies and students for this dating opportunity is high. We had our share of candidates and are sorting them out. We are always looking for “smart cookies” and take our time to see if it fits.

Our advice to current students and recent graduates would be to be open minded. Seek out and take every opportunity that you can. Do your research to keep up to date with emerging trends and developments. Keep your ear to the ground and your finger on the pulse. And do not be intimidated. Startups are companies like any other. Just smaller, fresher, and with a different cultural approach. Be confident in your skill sets and make sure they know how hard you’ll work for them. Startups love reliability and hustle. We really do.