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Entrepreneur seeks to connect people face-to-face in an industry run by technology

When Tonya Buford noticed the dating game had become overruled by technology, she wanted to change that. With her business, Singles Pop Up, she's bringing back face-to-face interactions.

  • Entrepreneurs
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Tonya Buford has long been in the business of assisting others. “I always want to get people connected with help,” she says. 

This is what led to her business, Singles Pop Up. The company is dedicated to bringing back face-to-face interactions with dating in the Tampa Bay area.

Buford has a long history of helping people — especially those in need of some kind of change. She has 15 years of nonprofit administrative experience, including helping at Reach St. Pete and serving Pinellas Community Church. She was also previously an ambassador for the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, helping greet out-of-town visitors. This experience paved the way for Singles Pop Up.

When Buford set out to start her business, she happened to be single at the time. She remembers using different dating apps, and meeting people she didn’t really connect with. The scene of connecting with people has become impersonal, she says. Instead, it’s being run by technology. 

“Technology was replacing people,” Buford says. “People are not connecting. How many people are we really friends with?” 

So, she set out to change that by creating a space for people to connect. 

Through Singles Pop Up, people are given the opportunity to meet others. It’s not just a place to find love. Attendees come for all different types of reasons. Like trying to find a good plumber recommendation. Buford says it’s a great career networking opportunity as well. 

The business was off to a good start before COVID-19 hit. Although she continued to hold Zoom calls to keep those connections alive, it just wasn’t the same. 

Now, she’s trying to get back the momentum she had, partially by partnering with other businesses with a similar goal. She’s even branching out and hosting some events in Washington, D.C., where she’s from, in September. 

“This change is necessary,” she says, especially after COVID-19. “Just the experience of not being able to hug someone. That intimacy — we couldn’t have it. (This is) more important now.”

One of Buford’s great joys in life is seeing others happy. That’s her goal every time she hosts an event. “I want them to walk away with something,” she says, “even if it’s not romantic.” 

In her eyes, change is necessary. From changing how people connected through the pandemic to changing how people think about themselves, Buford is always seeking the next change.

While most would agree that the change COVID-19 brought was filled with anxiety and unease, Buford didn't skip a beat. She found a way around and changed the way people were interacting in the middle of a pandemic.

When Buford was single and using dating apps, she did something about it to change it. And when someone says they're not good enough, she changes that mindset. "I just want people to know they're enough," she says. 

On Singles Pop Up, meanwhile, people take different things away from Buford’s events. It all depends on what stage they’re at in their life, she says. 

Buford also isn’t stopping with just a Singles Pop Up. Couples mixers are next. “I know what it’s like to move here and not know where the best Chinese restaurant is,” she says. This part of the company would be dedicated to helping couples find their “in” within the community. 

The biggest mistake she’s made along the way is waiting too long to start the company. This is something she’s been interested in starting for a long time. She says the company would have been a little further along if she had gotten started when she was first excited about it. 

As for the lessons she’s learned, she says getting paperwork in order is something that needs to be done early. That way the business is legitimized. 

Another lesson is that the entrepreneur game isn’t for everyone. “Make sure you’re passionate about it because it’s a roller coaster ride,” she says. 



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