For my A-Levels I did Maths, Chemistry and Biology. You’re thinking the same thing as me, why on earth would someone want to put themselves through that (I still don’t know to this day)? I originally wanted to do Medicine but changed my mind to study Natural Science before applying to university. Once I started studying for my A-Levels, it hit me that I didn’t enjoy science as much as I used to, and I called the universities I had applied to and had my offers changed to Economics. It’ll make you laugh to know that I now study Accounting and Finance. So let me tell you the story of how all this happened…
Firstly, I want to say that the A-Levels that I did were the hardest exams I’ve ever done. The pressure on you is immense but trust me there is light on the other side! When I applied for university, I had every confidence in the world I would get into my top choices. I applied for Economics at Bath (firm) and Nottingham (insurance) which required A*AA and AAA respectively. My parents were telling me that I needed to have a backup plan but foolishly I didn’t listen.
I could barely sleep the night before results day, anticipating what was to be but that morning I woke up and was in for a shock. At around 7am we were preparing to go to my secondary school to pick up the results when I received and email from UCAS informing me that I hadn’t got into either of my selected universities. My heart sank. The first response from my parents was “what happens now”? We got to school as quickly as we could, and I opened my results to find I had got BBB. Looking back on it, I’m incredibly proud of my grades but 18-year-old James didn’t feel that way one bit. I hadn’t expected to go through clearing and didn’t even know where to start but my teachers were fantastic. They took me to a desk with a computer, informed me of how to start and off I went. I called about 25 universities that day and was often met with straight no’s once I got through their phone queue. I recall one lady even chuckling when I told her my grades. When I got through to the University of Surrey, I was met by a warm, reassuring voice that offered me a place studying Accounting and Finance. I had a couple of offers from different universities with limited time to decide so I prioritised which universities I’d most like to visit and booked myself in to visit them. I saw two universities the day after and was left feeing unsure but the minute I drove into the Surrey campus I knew it was the one for me.
I didn’t really know how to prepare for university, so I just threw myself in headfirst. I got involved in as many clubs and societies as I could, met loads of great people and let’s not forget had a very good time going out! After Christmas of my first year, I started to explore the different ways I could make money opposed to working mind-numbing shifts at Tesco’s. That was the start of my entrepreneurial journey. I started drop-shipping (importing goods from other countries in bulk and selling them on an e-commerce store) which gave me lots of experience in how to set-up a website, inventory management and was using things I’d learnt from my degree that week to implement into the business. As we approached exams and the end of first year, I started to wind it back as I was focusing on my studies and since COVID hit I never started it again.
However, that was just the beginning. Me and Owen, a friend from secondary school (who went to Bath to study Economics), met over summer to discuss the idea of making a mobile app. We always shared the desire to own our own business and a love of technology. We explored a few ideas but something that really resonated with us was the lack of compatible matches within first year student accommodation. We both had similar experiences in our first year at university, living with people completely unlike ourselves. Then our business was born (originally called Student RNTL – what a bad name right!).
Here’s the logo:
It took us a while to get going as two 19-year-olds had no idea where to start and how to make an app. I emailed my personal tutor, and she loved the idea but as an accountant she didn’t know how much help she could be. So, she pointed me in the direction of Surrey Student Enterprise. I first met with Kat, the director, in October of 2019 and quickly started becoming involved with everything they had to offer. In reading week after our end of semester exam I stayed at university and attended a 3-day bootcamp regarding everything related to starting your own business. That was the start of what was to come.
Our business, Roome, is the first platform of its kind. Using a machine learning algorithm, we match likeminded students with each other and their perfect student home. We launched our app in February exclusively to the University of Surrey as a test and now have over 1,000 users. We have matched over 150 students to a group of students and a room in a property that’s perfect for them! Not only do we help students, but we also massively help landlords and letting agents. With our student exclusive platform, they have access to a market unlike any other app where the only people viewing their properties are students. Check out our website at www.roome-uni.co.uk to see what we’ve come up with!
Since that bootcamp, I have won: over £7,000 from the University to help support my business, multiple awards recognising myself and the business, been selected to represent the University of Surrey in national and global competitions, entered into the SETSquared Incubator (the biggest incubator in Europe), got free office space for a year, forged partnerships with the Students Union and University of Surrey Lettings, become the first student in the UK to do their placement year for their own business, and most importantly launched a successful app to help thousands of students, landlords and letting agents. I’m just at the start of my journey but it wouldn’t have been possible without support from the University of Surrey.