Business Rx: Can mingling be big business?

Monday, March 7, 2011; 22

The entrepreneur

With the exploding popularity of MySpace in 2006, Bradley Blinn and Dan Coffing saw an opportunity for a new business. They founded Mingle360 to create a networking solution with patent-pending technology that lets people digitally exchange contact information at an event.

"The context in which people exchange information varies depending on whether they are in a professional or social environment," Blinn said. "Dan and I decided there had to be a better way to make these connections. Business cards are tedious and the pen and paper is a conversation killer."

The pitch


"Mingle360 is a mobile technology company revolutionizing peer networking and lead generation at live business events, such as conferences, trade shows and corporate meetings. The company provides a networking service for all attendees that enables users to exchange and view online profile information including a person's business card information, favorite social networks and more.

"Conference or trade show attendees register and receive a MingleStick for their peer-to-peer networking at the event. The MingleStick is a one-button device that allows individuals to connect at the event without passing along business cards or scribbling down personal information. Users connect by pointing and clicking their MingleSticks with each other, which exchanges ID numbers that reference their online profiles. At the end of the event, attendees return their MingleStick and their new contacts are uploaded into their online account.

"The MingleStick is a great icebreaker because it facilitates conversation and creates connections by bringing people out of their shells. Our networking solution is new, different and involves innovative technology. It gets people talking with each other at the event and creates a social media buzz.

"Mingle360 also offers a MingleStation as passive lead retrieval for vendors. Vendors create an online business profile and then upload PDF documents, sales presentations, marketing collateral, etc., to their account. MingleStick users click with the MingleStation to receive the business profiles and electronic documents, thus eliminating the need for printed material.

"Our client base is quite extensive and our customers love the Mingle networking solution. To broaden our portfolio we are developing a mobile application. Our question is, how does Mingle360 attract major event management companies? Companies can employ the technology themselves or they can strategically partner with Mingle360 for implementations. We know we have a great networking solution for the event industry, but what's the best way to create a win-win relationship with these major players?"

The advice

Elana Fine, director of venture investments, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

"The key question you need to answer is how you create brand appeal around Mingle360 before smartphone applications make an additional hardware solution obsolete. Currently, conference attendees can't easily exchange their contact information electronically because of the numerous platforms and applications available that don't talk to each other, but that will change in time.

"Mingle 360 has a window of opportunity to create a cool factor around 'mingling' so that conference attendees believe your technology improved their overall experience, facilitated networking and generated valuable sales leads. In two years, the company should be able to migrate away from MingleSticks and toward a branded conference networking solution that is platform agnostic.

"Target the types of organizations and events that may be facing a downturn in conference attendance and then position your solutions as an opportunity to give a technology facelift to events that may have an eroding community. Given your attractive margins, you may be able to offer revenue sharing opportunities to these organizations in exchange for your services.

"Mingle360 has identified an attractive opportunity in the multibillion-dollar trade and conference market. You'll know you've been successful when someone tells you to 'Mingle me.' "

The reaction


"The transition to mobile applications fits perfectly within our business model. I definitely agree with you that revenue sharing represents a great opportunity for Mingle360 and the major event management companies. Our implementations also create a ton of buzz and PR and enable partners to find a windfall of new business because of word-of-mouth advertising.

"Overall, advancements in mobile technology will fundamentally change the events industry and we seek to capitalize on these new opportunities. We believe we can revolutionize the events industry and we look forward to partnering with event management companies that seek to further their competitive advantage and differentiation in the marketplace."

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