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Technology / Software

Entrepreneur creates ‘virtual notice board’ for students

An entrepreneur has revealed that she will launch a website students can use to swap textbooks and organise carpools as she hopes to corner a gap in the market.

Charlotte Howard-Jones managed to collect £25,000 from friends and family to fund her startup,

The website is soon to go live, and will be followed by an app, both of which will allow undergraduates to use the site as a "virtual notice board" for swapping unwanted items and organising events.

But Howard-Jones is clear that it is not a social network, and hopes to fill a market niche by offering a similar service to Gumtree, but one that, crucially, is exclusively for university-goers.

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She said: "I came up with the idea two years ago. It’s taken such a long time to go from the initial concept to getting it out. I couldn’t believe no-one else had done this.

"I got the idea from the notice boards they have in student halls. I thought, maybe this would work online, on a larger scale."

She spent time on market research, talking with groups of students about what functions they would like the website to serve, but quickly decided she would need to provide content to keep them coming back.

"I decided on a social page to give students general advice about university life, it’s a little like a blog. We’re putting together content to encourage students to return, so we can get our critical mass up so we can access proper funding," Howard-Jones explained.

That figure is £100,000, and that number is 20,000 students, most likely sourced from five universities Howard-Jones’s marketing manager – himself a student – is targeting, which include Manchester, Kingston and Brunel.

The entrepreneur believes young people are the perfect target audience because of their familiarity with new technology.

"They are early adopters of everything, they live a more ‘instant’ lifestyle," she said. "They are using Twitter, Facebook, which help spread the word. As soon as they get excited about something it’s a snowball effect."

But she admitted that, had she had the idea one year later, she would have foregone creating the website.

"I would have just built an app. They are much more immediate, you don’t have to go finding a computer, you just need to click."

Despite this she hopes her strategy of combining the two mediums, app and website, will pay off, with the app now half complete anda trial version installed on her phone.

"It’s looking brilliant. It’s a streamlined version of the website, there’s no blog so it’s very much a notice board on your phone. But it has to work properly with the website, they have to work in conjunction."

Howard-Jones also hopes her website will encourage students to connect in real life, rather than predominantly online.

She said: "I worry that people won’t be living life in a practical way anymore, with the popularity of smartphones and things.

"The website works as a network but you’re organising to drive your car from one place to another and you’ll share that journey with people you’ve never met until then. Hopefully that’s a social aspect of the site."

The website should be live before the start of term in September at and Howard-Jones is hoping it will prove a hit with students.

She said: "Students are a huge niche market and there’s a lot of potential there. They adopt new ideas and are willing to try things. They will shut the door if it doesn’t work, it’s true, so we have to get it right first time."
This article is from the CBROnline archive: some formatting and images may not be present.