“In an accelerator environment, you find solutions faster.”

There are now two Dare To Date-babies, and if it is up to Heleen van Oost, there will be many more worldwide. The young entrepreneur pairs singles through her speed dating service. Within a few months, she saw her start-up’s membership double from 30,000 to a whopping 60,000. She is also preparing for internationalisation. In that area, Van Oost says she owes a lot to the accelerator programme Birdhouse, where her self-confidence received an enormous boost: “The most important lesson I learned there is that you can dream big.”

Confidence boost

Heleen Van Oost had been working with Dare To Date for a year before she signed up with Birdhouse. “I had started the concept when I noticed how difficult my girlfriends had to find their prince charming online. I organised a number of speed dates at a nice location, with and for singles, and it turned out to catch on.”

Dare To Date quickly grew to a team of eight and organised 25 to 30 events per month in Belgium. “I was able to make a living out of it and I thought that was an achievement in itself. But I felt there was more potential for growth. I just didn’t know how to approach that structurally. My admission to the group of 15 start-ups at Birdhouse gave me a huge confidence boost in that regard. Also because I noticed then that others believed in my concept and thought it was worth investing time and resources in Dare To Date.

Matching mentors

At the start of the process, two mentors were assigned to Dare To Date, who had a strong affinity with its business. So there was an instant click with Wilfried Van Assche, in a previous life CEO of Brussels Airport: “He helped me enormously to further optimise the service as it was then, to start from the customer and what he is really looking for,” says Heleen van Oost.

“My mentor Wilfried Van Assche (ex-CEO Brussels Airport) has helped me enormously to further optimise my service, by learning to start from my customer’s point of view”.

For Dare To Date it was clear what their clients were looking for: a perfect match. At the same time, the start-up noticed that the chance that you will meet the right one during a speed date with ten participants is quite small. They then brainstormed: “Soon the solution came to enrich the database of singles with additional data and to use that to search for matches.”

Heleen Van Oost

Since then, Dare To Date has been working with questionnaires that are presented to the participants of the speed dates. Based on the answers, each participant subsequently receives six matches from the database. It turned out to be a first important success factor for further growth.. “Dare To Date has a match rate of no less than 82% as a result of the changes. The number of couples has therefore increased significantly. And the number of babies too,” Van Oost winks.

“Dare To Date has a match rate of no less than 82% as a result of the changes. The number of couples has increased significantly as a result. And the number of babies too”

Besides Wilfried Van Assche, Dare To Date also received Also coaching by Tom Maerten of Maerten & Partners. “He has helped me very much in terms of organization and growth. He asked crucial questions such as: How do you structure and manage a team in full expansion? How do you get a team on board? And how do you keep the balance between day-to-day operations and strategically developing your business?”

Vibrant community

Before she started in our accelerator program, Heleen Van Oost was cold feet. “I was in it to make mistakes. And I wondering if I could live up to the high expectations. But from day one, the uncertainty completely melted away. I realized I wasn’t alonebut that there were fifteen other start-ups that wanted to go for it rock-hard.”

She could always turn to the other participating start-ups with a question or problem. “Suddenly I wasn’t sitting alone at my kitchen table, but was surrounded by others who were building“, Heleen Van Oost explains. “In such an environment, you find solutions faster. It was also very valuable to experience the different workshops together. In this way, I not only learned a lot about my own business, but also about that of others. I still follow the start-ups of our generation very closely. Occasionally we still have a pint together.”

Ambitious plans

In six months, Dare To Date saw its membership double from 30,000 to 60,000. In addition, by the end of the Birdhouse trajectory, international expansion was number one on the priority list. “I would actually be on a plane to New York right now,” Van Oost says. “We are rolling out Dare To Date in the US. Even more than here, there is a need there for an alternative to Tinder, Parship and other dating apps.”

“That’s one of the most important lessons I learned at Birdhouse: dare to dream big.”

At the same time, she is also working hard on Ciao, a dating concept that uses the existing database for personal matchmaking. Heleen Van Oost explains: “We interview a client, filter ten matches from our system, and contact the candidates to see if it could be a perfect fit. That has worked super well so far.”

As far as the future is concerned, the ambitions are sky-high: “If you ask me for a five-year plan, I would say: Dare to Date and Ciao will become the largest matchmaking services in Belgium and the rest of the world. That’s one of the most important lessons I learned at Birdhouse: dare to dream big!”