Peter Mangan from Silversharers is a finalist in the Fellowship for Longer Lives programme running at Impact Hub King’s Cross in partnership with AXA and Swiss Re Foundation. Here he gives us an update of his start up journey.
It’s mid-way through the 3 month incubation phase of the Impact Hub Fellowship for Longer Lives, and I’ve been asked to describe what it’s like; I would say a mix between a great big adventure and start-up bootcamp – both of which are keeping the adrenalin high, the creative juices flowing, and the grand plans on track.
Due to my circumstances, being selected for the finalist phase of the Impact Hub Fellowship at King’s Cross, London presented some immediate logistical challenges; namely moving from Ireland to London and arranging sabbatical from my job at UCD, all in double quick-time. This however added considerable impetus and momentum to my early endeavours. I am a big believer that to do something exceptional you need to step outside your comfort zone, and the further you move from your comfort zone the more inspiring and potentially rewarding the journey.
The first great thing about this Fellowship is that it was open to people like me; people who had a good idea, but little else. Support at the earliest stage of idea development can make all the difference. Lots of great ideas never go anywhere simply because the first step is never taken. This Fellowship enabled my first step.
My idea centres on using the peer-to-peer “sharing economy” model to combat loneliness and isolation in older people. It involves creating a senior-to-senior community platform to enable seniors rent out their spare rooms to fellow seniors to come for short term stays & vacations. They can enjoy new company through traveling and hosting, and unlock some of the asset value of their homes with an income stream in later life. Coming through the competitive Fellowship process provided the first significant validation of my idea. Thus armed, I moved to London to start this venture in earnest.
I decided to take advantage of my circumstances; marrying the practical (needing a place to stay) with the purposeful (needing to do market research). So for the first 2.5 weeks I stayed with various senior hosts throughout London (using Airbnb and other sites); moving every other night in order to test the waters online and on the ground. This was an edifying experience which convinced me of a number of things; not just the value and viability of my idea, but also that older people make great hosts.
Speaking of hosts, the Impact Hub King’s Cross is hard to beat. The beautiful building is an inspiring place to work, and the Hub team has been really welcoming and supportive. I particularly love the fluid way one can make valuable connections just by chatting casually at the coffee counter. People genuinely try to help each other make progress in whatever they are doing. It’s a truly facilitative culture and an ideal incubation environment for someone at my stage.
The formal Fellowship programme is great, providing access to high calibre mentors and coaches from across the spectrum of expertise – financial, legal, research, marketing, web development, branding…; all essential ingredients for building a start-up enterprise. The real jewel in the crown however, is the focus on ageing. This is where the Fellowship really adds value in comparison to other accelerators. Success for a venture like mine rests on understanding and reaching potential customers. It is essential therefore to liaise with those who really know the sector, i.e. senior age organisations. Apart from actively arranging key meetings, the Impact Hub Fellowship is itself a calling card; providing the essential credibility to open doors independently.
Much as I enjoy the Impact Hub, my start-up teachings were telling me it was time to “get out of the building” and speak to potential customers to see first-hand what they think of the idea. Thanks to the support of the Open Age organisation, I am now conducting focus group sessions in several centres around London. These have been enlightening (and fun), with highly engaged participants providing very positive and constructive feedback. As I take the next steps towards website design (having teamed up with a specialist senior UX web designer), I do so armed with some real customer input. Furthermore the groups have agreed to continue on the journey with me by reviewing the website design in a few weeks’ time. Such engagement and support is invaluable at this stage, and highly motivating. I hope to repay them by developing something of real value, opening doors to a new way of travelling, meeting new people, and enjoying later life. Onwards we march.