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Former Bradford student looking to revolutionise student lettings market

A former student of a Yorkshire independent school has won the support of the Royal Bank of Scotland as she aims to shake up the student lettings market with her new app.

Olivia Dovernor, 22, a former student of Bradford Grammar School (BGS), wants to help fellow students navigate the stressful property market, initially at St Andrews, home of her former university.

Olivia, whose family still live in Thornton, has crowdfunded the first round to develop her app, The Student Bubble, and is in talks with consultants behind a major UK property platform to expand the app’s reach to other university towns.

Olivia studied for a degree in chemistry at the University of St Andrews and, while there, found the private student lettings market was fraught with time consuming application processes and a general lack of transparency.

Said Olivia: “There are approximately 9,000 students at St Andrews and securing a suitable house in town is very difficult. There are around ten agencies and each one has its own application process which is time consuming and stressful as thousands of students race to fill out these different forms and hurry back to their offices. You have to work out who you want to live with and have a good understanding of the town and accommodation prices all by October – only a month after arriving at university.

“I must have accessed all the agents’ websites and Facebook pages researching how to get ahead for each agent in the student property market, yet when we applied as a four, we still got nowhere. Worse, you wouldn’t be notified if a property had been let. In the end, my friend and I were separated from our friendship group as the only house we could find to rent was a rundown bungalow away from the town centre. Something like this affects your whole student experience.”

Olivia spent a placement year in Edinburgh where she found that searching for and renting property was not as difficult as in St Andrews.

“I found friends had similar experiences looking for accommodation at other universities and I thought an app featuring houses for rent with simplified processes to apply for them, along with general renting advice, would take the headache out of it all,” she said.

“It will add transparency to the market and stop students running after properties that are already let, creating an opportunity and a sense of control that is currently lacking.”

After learning to code herself, Olivia pitched her idea successfully to a front-end app developer, who has more than 140 successful apps and previous experience developing technology in the property industry. The current round of crowdfunding, along with founder investment, will pay for the development of the minimum viable product (MVP) and take the app to market.

The Royal Bank of Scotland match funded the initial funds with a £2,500 donation under its Backing Her Business scheme, which supports female entrepreneurs.

Added Olivia, who has just started a PhD in chemistry at the University of Cambridge: “It’s great that RBS has backed the project and myself as a young female entrepreneur. Our plan is for the app to help future students at the University of St Andrews initially and then look to expand into other similar university towns across the UK.”

Olivia has also received support from the BGS alumni on Beyond Bradford, the school’s Old Bradfordian network.

Dr Simon Hinchliffe, headmaster at Bradford Grammar School, said: “Not only has Olivia shown great entrepreneurial spirit in coming up with the idea for her app and sourcing funding for it, she has devised a solution to a problem which will help future students find homes.

“It’s fantastic to see Olivia making the most of her talent and tenacity. We wish her all the best for the future.”