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James McKenzie BA (Hons) Media & Journalism, 2023 - NCL Dates

Current Media & Journalism student, James McKenzie, and his partner, Northumbria Researcher, Ben Mellor launched NCL Dates around a year ago with the help of the Student & Graduate Enterprise Team. They specialise in hosting Speed Dating events for all, and seasonally run a Blind Dating matchmaking service as well as other dating and relationship orientated events. Their events are inclusive to any gender, age (18+) or sexual orientation, with the events being partnered with, and held, in some of Newcastle’s most popular venues.

At the Speed Dating events, the friendly NCL Dates team welcome daters and explain how it works. At heterosexual events, women stay seated and men travel around the circuit of tables. Both genders rate the quality of the connection on the date and tick the other person if they’d like to ‘match’. If both parties have ticked each other, there’s a match and there is an exchange of the daters’ preferred contact details with their matches the following day.  

The main priority of the team is to ensure that everyone has a great time in a fun, safe, environment. The small but dedicated team are always visible and walking around during the dates to ensure everyone is safe and comfortable. There are safety measures in place and all venues are either a private function room or the entire venue to ensure privacy. NCL Dates foster an environment which is rare these days, a bar full of people you know are all single and looking for a relationship.

Speaking of setting up the business Ben commented:

"While I was at uni, I ran a successful student meme page where I’d engage students with activities and content. Following a trial of setting up fellow students through Blind Dating and applying my postgraduate degree knowledge in Psychology, I decided to set up a dating service that wasn't just for students. I was inspired to pursue this avenue due to there being a big demand for in-person events following the COVID lockdowns and through my interest in relationships, attraction and compatibility, an area I am a published academic author in. It was important to me from the moment I started the company that we were inclusive and open to all, that’s why we offer different events for people of all ages and sexual orientations. My parents also met on a Blind Date in 1996 so I suppose there is that inspiration too!

The Enterprise Team at Northumbria have been integral to our development over the six months, they've provided us with support from a series of field experts in marketing, sales, UX design etc. and we genuinely feel as though we wouldn't have been able to grow our business so quickly if it weren't for this ongoing advice and guidance. They've run a bunch of sessions throughout the year which are a really great place to learn about business development while meeting other student and graduate business owners, and we really value those connections. We can drop in to the Incubator any time for advice or just a quiet place to work, and it genuinely feels as though everyone is there to help one another, which is ideal for us as we don't currently operate out of an office. The Enterprise Team are also incredibly quick at answering any questions we might have."

The growing success of the company of the past year has allowed the team to launch expansions into new cities such as Leeds and Windsor/Egham on the outskirts of London, with the hopes of Ben and James being to grow the company nationally to ensure they’re bringing their modern brand of inclusive Speed Dating to all.

James commented:

"We've had a few success stories, one occasion that stands out to us in particular was when a friend of our's came to one of ourout speed dates events, he said he had a good time and that there was a couple of people he'd be interested in talking to after the event. After that he went quiet for a while and we didn't hear many more updates on his love life. Then, at a party, he introduced us to his new girlfriend and it was one of the girls from the event - they've been together for a few months now and seem like such a great match and we're hoping they're together for the long run so we can attend an NCL Dates wedding!

Our advice to anyone wanting to start a business would be to get talking to as many people as you can and do your research, it's easy to want to just get stuck in right away but there's plenty of know-how and dare we say boring stuff that needs to be prepared first to give you the best chances of success, and there are plenty of resources to help budding entrepreneurs with the setup of their business - especially for Northumbria students and graduates get in touch with the enterprise team, we honestly can't recommend them enough!"

Find out more about NCL Dates here.


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