Entrepreneurs are strange creatures and you may never really know how you end up becoming one. Before founding BuddyHub, Catherine McClen was on a career break from the City, London’s financial heart, and looking for something more meaningful to do.
“Looking back, it doesn’t feel like I made a decision that I’m going to do a startup. You may think how on earth did it begin?”, said Catherine.
For Catherine, it all started five years ago in a very serendipitously moment of her having just joined Twitter and seeing a tweet calling for ideas to combat loneliness and isolation amongst older people. This was a cause close to Catherine’s heart and despite her being very civic-minded and doing lots of volunteering work, she hadn’t come across a solution that worked well.
“The very simple lightbulb moment was understanding that the barriers, for me, were that I couldn't really commit with the time to the volunteering opportunities that there were out there. There’s no flexibility and I was worried about dependency and I didn’t want to let a person down”, explained Catherine.
A few weeks down the line and after a rushed application to Unlimited, came the good news that she had been awarded some money to take her idea off the ground. Catherine still recalls the exact number: £3,874. And suddenly, she found herself as an entrepreneur: “I remember telling my friends and all toasting. I'm a social entrepreneur apparently!”.
Catherine rolled up her sleeves and started a befriending scheme pilot in Islington which was supposed to last three months and ended up taking six times that. During that process she recognized that technology would be crucial to making this work, “I'm not a techie but I knew technology would be super important”.
It was at that time that Catherines path crossed with Activate. “I've met one or two techies before who were offering to build me websites for money I didn't have and with too many bells and whistles that I didn't know whether or not I needed. When Paolo [director at Activate] and I sat down, I was like ‘Ahh, this guy gets it!’”.
Catherine applied and managed to secure a place in Activate’s 2016 startup programme. She recalls the excitement she felt at the start:
“I knew this was gonna be a deep dive into BuddyHub so that was a pretty unique opportunity to have. I felt very supported particularly because I was a sole founder and suddenly you have a whole group of people from outside really looking in a deep dive”.
Fast-forward three years and BuddyHub has moved from an idea and running a pilot scheme to signing up Buddies and Seniors and proving traction. Catherine confesses that it was only recently, when she was filling out an application form, that she realised how far she has progressed with BuddyHub: “There was just something really great about realising, almost without noticing because you're just so busy, that you've passed through all stages and you are going from startup to scale”.
When talking about the future, Catherine says that the plans are to scale up and be a national organisation within the next five years. But she also warns that this is going to be a make-or-break year: “I think it is feeling make-it rather than break-it. It’s going to be make-it by hook or by crook!”.