What was life like before Umii?
Back in 2018 I was studying Human Geography and Sociology at Leeds University, and secured a placement at Nova (Nova Cofundery Ltd). It was the first time that I got involved with start-up businesses, and I absolutely caught the bug! I then left university the following year, and Nova was good enough to offer me a full time role as a product manager.
What gave you the idea?
The original idea of the Umii app wasn’t mine, but it was a concept that I completely empathised with. In my first year at University, I had a real issue with loneliness and isolation. I didn’t click with my flat-mates, and found it hard to build friendships. It was so bad that I nearly dropped out. So when the original founder of Umii resigned, and I was offered the opportunity to become a shareholder and director, and to take the company forward, I jumped at it. I was really encouraged by Nova to ‘go for it’ and it has turned out to be the best time of my life!
So what does Umii offer?
Very simply it is a well-being app that is designed to prevent social isolation….and to build friendships, for students at university or college.
Somehow, people seemed increasingly reluctant to introduce themselves to others face to face, whether in coffee shops, the union, or the library. There is a lack of social confidence.
The app provides a safe digital environment for students to connect.
The Umii app is built on shared interests and personality traits, so that there is every chance that a friendship can be formed.
We see it as a way to reduce the number of drop-outs from university, with all the heartache and waste of resources that this entails.
What problems and challenges did you face?
The biggest challenge was the concerns that universities have for student safety. The last thing that they want is to have an app that opens students up to scammers, or others that are trying to take advantage of the students. It has meant that the quality of our verification process has been absolutely critical.
The other recent challenge is that prospective students with conditional offers want to start engaging with like minded people before they actually start at university, and this opens up further security issues.
Both of these challenges are being worked on.
Has Covid-19 had any significant impact on the development of your business?
Covid-19 has had a significant impact in 2 important ways.
Before Covid-19 arrived, around 50% of students admitted to loneliness, and this has only got worse under the pandemic.
It has also made universities much more aware of the issue, and that has made them more interested in talking to us.
What difference has Nova made?
We would be nowhere without the support that Nova has given. It has encompassed creating a board of Nova colleagues, with different skill sets that include creating a business model, tech developments, marketing to students, planning for future funding, and wisdom in some of the key decisions we have had to make.
And what does the future look like?
We are very excited. Our partnered universities can’t believe the impact that Umii has had! One university saw nearly 1400 users in the first 4 months and over 17,500 messages sent between their students. 52% of survey respondents at another university said Umii made them feel less isolated and lonely. There have now been over 12,500 individual connections made on the app….and growing fast!
We have our first US university wanting to talk to us later this year, and we are also interested in taking this to Australia.
Here in the UK we are also planning to target colleges and some new product developments. This includes the ability to signpost events, and also for the selective promotion of branded products.
‘Georgia has taken to her leadership role like a duck to water. With her own experiences of what students need, she has identified very strongly with the needs of both the students and the universities. It is a need that is self-evident and it is exciting to be part of the solution.’