From the September 2004 issue of Entrepreneur

At the starting signal, 20 to 40 couples start their dates. Their challenge: to determine whether their "date" is their perfect match . . . in only four minutes.

The 4-Minute Date capitalizes on the speed-dating trend, and sisters Donna Heiser, 48, and Pat Maida, 51, are getting in on the action-as business owners.

After their cousin raved about The 4-Minute Date session she attended, Maida researched the company and discovered the service was not yet offered in her area. The sisters bought the exclusive licensing rights to The 4-Minute Date in the Tampa Bay, Florida, area for $5,000 last fall.

The service is geared toward single, time-pressed professionals who are tired of the singles-bar scene, says Heiser. The sisters set up events at bars or restaurants, where singles meet and mingle. "[Clients] get to go out one night and buy a couple of drinks, instead of going out 20 nights," Heiser explains of the business's appeal.

Nationwide, 14 couples report they got engaged after meeting through the service, says founder Christian Screen. And for a fee of just $35, Heiser says, people are not only finding their significant others, but are also "making friendships and business connections."

Running the business does have its challenges-one is to have an equal number of men and women for each event. Men sometimes "chicken out," says Heiser. Another difficulty is making their name known in the area, so the sisters have invested in advertising in Tampa Bay's three major newspapers.

Today, Heiser and Maida believe they've found their match-they have registered about 800 people on the Web site, www.speedmingle.com, and expect to make $70,000 in 2004 gross sales.