When I first heard of Unihomeswap, I was a little unsure as to whether as a Student I would have been interested in literally leaving my own family to go and live with another, when I headed off to Uni. First year University was all about that liberating feeling of freedom and decision-making; whether to get up at 1pm or 2pm, and what take away we would order that evening!
However now as a slightly maturer person, imagining myself going into student halls, as a mature student, for more than 24 hours, would fill me with fear – after all where are the facilities for espresso coffee?! If someone now offered me the chance to swap my warm and well furnished family home for another warm and inviting home – I would jump at the chance. As a parent, I would also consider this a good option for my children, (perhaps not for the 1st year mind!), as the security it could give you, plus the money it could save you all, could be immense.
With this in mind TheEmployable were keen to speak to new startup Unihomeswap who are looking to revolutionise the student housing market – with a simple home swap between parents as their children go to Uni…Thank you Hermione and Becci of Unihomeswap, let’s get straight on with the questions….
Tell us about Unihomeswap, I appreciate you have come together to work on this project, but how and why was the idea first conceived?
In March of last year, Hermione was sitting in the car discussing how expensive university was becoming. To save money on rising university fees, she could at least cut costs on accommodation and her children could stay at home to study at one of the local universities. She said it would be great if they could just swap rooms with someone who did live in the university town they wanted to go to and in return she could have the other student. That was the light bulb moment! She even came up with the name, Unihomeswap, before the journey was over.
At what point did you think your idea had real potential and did you undertake market research to test its interest from both students and concerned parents?
She immediately knew the idea had potential and if she could think of it, then other people would be open to the idea too. As an educator she was in the perfect environment to tap into opinions of staff, students and parents regarding her new idea. A small test sample of local students revealed that 10% would be happy staying in a family home whilst attending university. Subsequently, national research across a broader spectrum of students has confirmed these results as a definite accommodation choice. Students from all academic disciplines were interested, but particularly students accessing extended/longer courses such as Life Sciences, Medicine, Law and Art. Since our launch we have had many emails from excited parents who are eager to join the scheme as soon as their students are ready to start Higher Education (H.E) courses.
I am assuming its all go at the moment to prepare for the new intake of University Students for September – how is it all going at the moment?
We never have a spare moment and are continually inundated with work; making contacts with Colleges and Universities to spread the word of who we are and making ourselves available to the online community, which is steadily growing. As people are registering we are building up rooms across the UK from Belfast to Brighton, Bristol to Cardiff and Lancashire to London. We have had some enthusiastic feedback from College Heads who believe we will really be able to help some of their students, who, due to cultural constraints, would not have ventured further to study at their ideal university.
Have you ever set up businesses before and how have you found the support that is available both in person and online for new start-ups?
Neither of us have ever set up business prior to this, but we have really enjoyed the steep learning curve. A lot of basic tasks involved in the early stages require lots of planning , organisation and careful reading on how to set things up. The initiative ‘StartUp Britain’ was very helpful in highlighting the importance of well-integrated social media in your operations. The southeast area division of ‘Business Link’ had a wealth of information around many of the legal aspects involved early on. We tapped into the expertise of entrepreneurs within our joint circle of friends. We endeavoured to source the resources we needed from local businesses and this included the web design team and that we choose to build the site.
What advice could you give a potential entrepreneur, in terms of the valuable lessons you have both learned so far?
As soon as you have thought of a name, check it has not already been trademarked and that the domain name is available before you do anything else. Be protective of your idea and do not be afraid of using confidentiality agreements when in initial consultation with other professional bodies. If you follow the instructions carefully on the companies house website you do not need to pay someone to set this up for you, this also applies for registering your trademark. If you have come up with an idea that has potential, and a large corporation wants to do it for themselves, they may engage in ’trademark bullying’. This is when they can oppose your application during the 3 month period before you are awarded ® status. They may try to scare you off by using the threat of high legal fees to make you withdraw.
From the start we were very clear about our product in terms of branding and function. We used well planned interviews to find the ideal team who helped us build the site and opened our eyes to backend technology! Stick to your vision and do not let other people distort it, however do carefully consider any constructive criticism. Although this sounds obvious keep all your notes in one place, dating it every time you make an entry. Remember to back up your computer on a regular basis and wherever you are based keep things locked away. Printing companies can have their off days! So check and double check before copy goes to print, without our eagle eyes we could have been ‘unihomeslap’. If possible do not go it alone but find a business partner with a different skill set, enabling a 360˚c approach to problem solving.
Whats next for Unihomeswap – any exciting plans or developments in the pipeline!
We are about to embark on the first of our housing information talks. These are designed to pass on unbiased and informative tips to the parents of students in their final year of Further Education / Sixth Form College. We are always on the look out to link with like-minded businesses that help students. The work we are doing keeps opening doors to further projects and in due course we will be able to share these.
We look forward to hearing more about Unihomeswap as it develops and wish Hermione and Becci all the best for the future…We would also encourage you to take five minutes out to look at their website – click here– and perhaps you might know someone it would benefit.
If you are looking to start your own business, think you have a creative idea or you are a self starting business champion then find out more about Startacus the online community celebrating the self starter – launching soon…