The Student Bubble
Olivia Dovernor (MChem 2020) not only had a successful academic career at St Andrews: she also came up with the idea of a property app – The Student Bubble – to make it easier for other students to apply for private rental property in the town and avoid the pitfalls she and her friends experienced.
Here she describes why she came up with the concept, and what she hopes it will achieve.
Why St Andrews?
Coming from a small village in West Yorkshire, I wanted to attend a university that would enable me to grow in confidence and support me all the way through my degree. To my delight, that is exactly what I found at St Andrews.
I applied for an integrated masters in Chemistry in 2016 because of the University’s reputation and the fact that the course included a year in industry. It is thanks to the skills that I learned during my undergraduate degree and to the independence, networking skills and professionalism that I developed during my placement year at Johnson Matthey in Edinburgh that I managed to secure a DPhil at the University of Cambridge, starting in October 2020.
How it all began
Apart from Chemistry, I have also been interested in business since I was at school.
When I was in Sixth Form, I wanted to volunteer abroad, so to fundraise for this I designed a flyer offering local businesses the opportunity to advertise within the school.
To my surprise, that small flyer gained momentum and by the end of the year I had persuaded clients such as Mercedes-Benz to advertise at the Christmas fair. As a result, I developed a passion for helping businesses to promote and grow their brands that I still have to this day.
I developed an interest in property during my time at St Andrews (though for less positive reasons!). After first year, I wanted to move out of halls and into a privately rented house with three of my close friends. We fully expected to get a four-bed property, but this turned out to be much harder and more stressful than we had originally thought.
The problem …
Student accommodation lists in St Andrews are currently released from local agents every year around late January and early February, but to have any chance of success you need to have a good understanding of the town, accommodation prices and who you want your potential flatmates to be by October – only a month after arriving at University!
It’s like a military campaign. Before 9am on the day the accommodation lists are finally released, you gather with your group and work out a strategy. Where do you go first? Who goes to which property? How do you get back to the office first? What happens if the tenants don’t let you in to view? And so on. It takes a long time to gather all of the relevant information and application documents, but the key problem is that students aren’t notified when a property is let, so you can be wasting your time running around and looking at properties that have already gone. This is exactly what happened to us and, as a result, our group of four had to split into two groups of two, with only two days left to scramble for the poor-quality accommodation that was left. I therefore saw how essential it was to have transparency in the local rental market. That’s where the idea for the app came from!
The solution …
While I was in third year, I moved to Edinburgh for my placement with Johnson Matthey and I began to write down the problems and potential solutions to the St Andrews rental system.
After a few nights’ brainstorming I came up with an idea for an app that featured the following:
- property pages listing student-specific details about the features and facilities of each property and its relative location to University buildings
- a ‘favourite’ function that when selected immediately notifies the student of the property’s updated availability
- a time delay on the release of viewing slots that enables students to organise and target viewings for accommodation that suits their needs
- a profile page that students can create to store and use documents across multiple applications (as opposed to the current situation where they have to fill out a different form for each agent)
I immediately reached out to letting agents to ask if this would be something they would be interested in – if I could get it to market. They said yes and so over the next 11 months I had meetings with development companies to find out how much it would cost to build it.
The answer was a lot. I therefore began to learn how to code myself to save costs, but quickly realised it was a job for a professional. I did manage, however, create three pages of the app (see below) and pitched it successfully to a highly-recommended, front-end developer who is now working with me to bring this project to market.
Throughout lockdown, I talked to letting agents about collating and advertising student rentals on this app and am now crowdfunding to help turn an idea into reality.
I have received so much support in so many ways from the University and St Andrews community that I would now like to give something back by bringing this app to market, changing the rental market in St Andrews for the better and making the experience less stressful for students applying for rental properties in the town.
Find out more
You can find out more about The Student Bubble on @thestudentbubble or through this link: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/thestudentbubble.