BuddyHub: The business keeping older people connected

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We caught up with the founder and CEO of BuddyHub to find out more about the business and what it’s trying to achieve.

VITAL STATISTICS

●     Company: BuddyHub

●     What it does, in a sentence:  BuddyHub creates new friendships for older people to help them live well as they age

●     Founded: November 2014, London

●     Founder/s: Catherine McClen

●     Size of team: 3

●     Your name and role: Founder and CEO

THE NEED-TO-KNOW

What problem are you trying to solve?

Friendship is one of the most important things for many of us, yet our circle of friends may significantly diminish over the years and eventually lead us to experience loneliness and isolation. For older people this can be very detrimental to their physical and mental health. BuddyHub provides a way out of this situation by creating new friendships and new social circles for seniors. Our approach is so flexible even busy people can volunteer to be a Buddy and seniors who aren’t digitally literate can be onboarded completely offline.

How big is the market – and how much of it do you think you can own?

There are 1.1m older people who are chronically lonely in the UK. We’ve been piloting BuddyHub in Islington for over a year and are building the first befriending type service to scale. We’re using clever technology like machine learning and chat bots to help us, without losing the human touch. We will scale to reach as many people as we can and hope to reach perhaps 5-10 per cent of all people experiencing chronic loneliness, even more if possible.

How do you make money?

We’re currently developing the pilot programme but aim to be a membership service by Autumn 2017 as we start to scale up our service. We continue to test our business model to understand more about who will pay for our service and expect it to be a mixture of B2B contracts, in the public health prevention space for example, B2C, directly from seniors and their relatives, as well as grants and donations from our community and other supporters.

Who’s on your team that makes you think you can do this? 

BuddyHub currently has three members on its team, CTO Paolo Valdemarin, Marketing Specialist Sofia Pelucio and myself as Founder and CEO.

Before BuddyHub I spent 17 years as a Portfolio Manager, Credit Analyst and Macro Strategist in the City. But it was my family experience as a young carer for my mother, who had early onset dementia, that gave me the empathy and perspective needed to address the issues of loneliness and isolation.

Digital industry veteran Paolo Valdemarin has nearly 30 years experience working with European and US based startups, he is the MD of boutique digital platform development company Activate Media and is a partner of Activate Capital who run the digital startup lab accelerator programme BuddyHub has been a part of. Finally, Sofia Pelucio works across all operational areas with a focus on marketing where she recently completed a Masters degree.

I believe that together we have the skills, experience and dedication to build a financially sustainable business to tackle this social issue.

Who’s bankrolling you?

To date BuddyHub has been largely bootstrapped by the founder, helped by a small grant from the charity UnLtd and from Islington CCG, both of which helped to fund our pilot. More recently we have received a philanthropic loan to support our operations over the next few months and to match fund our technology platform development. We have also received an equity investment from Activate Media to match fund our technology platform development.

BuddyHub is a portfolio company for Activate Capital and were the third company selected for their digital startup lab accelerator programme. In the next few weeks we will announce some exciting grant news which will help us start to scale up our service from the early Autumn.

What advice would you give other entrepreneurs trying to secure that kind of finance?

If you are a social enterprise then it’s worth spending time finding out which organisations will offer grants to your type of organisation: these will depend in part on your legal structure. It’s good to sign up to websites that help identify grant funders, such as Funding Central, and to check out the large funders, such as The Big Lottery, to start with. Otherwise, building a good network of social businesses and asking them who they’ve applied to for grants is helpful. Participating in the right accelerators at the right time is also very helpful in raising your profile and attracting equity investment.

What do you believe the key to growing this business is? 

We will be significantly scaling up our business geographically in the next few years. Building out our technology platform to harness the power of digital efficiency will be key to helping us do that. Hiring the right people who care about the social mission to grow our organisation will also be crucial. Another important factor will be continuing to test and refine our business model and developing our growth strategy to ensure we create a financially sustainable business.

What metrics do you look at every day?

We’re still in the pilot phase so are currently developing our metrics which will be a mix of financial and operational data to assess how we are performing from a financial and operational perspective.

What’s been the most unexpectedly valuable lesson you’ve learnt so far? 

Founding a startup is very different from running a mature business. The challenges and skills you need are very specific. You need to surround yourself with people who have a lot of experience at the stage of the business you’re at and who know something about the sector you’re in. However, after every hard day comes a good one, so you just have to keep going.

What’s been your biggest mistake so far? 

Nothing immediately springs to mind. As a lean startup we’re constantly trying, testing and making mistakes. When something doesn’t work we just change, learn from it and carry on.

What do you think is on the horizon for your industry in the year ahead? 

We are a niche or new sector within the Health and Wellbeing sector but I believe we’re going to see more and more technology based solutions within the industry.

Which London start-up/s are you watching, and why?

We’re watching the progress of Tomo and ISOS Health, who are part of the Activate Capital family, because they’re also focused on the Health and Wellbeing space. Tomo has created an app, based on psychological and behavioural research, that helps track and manage habits to help tackle depression which is often linked to loneliness. ISOS Health connects people with wellness specialists to support people with their mental, physical and nutritional health goals. We love the mission of both companies and want them to succeed.

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