A former student at the University of Bristol bent on overhauling the ‘toxic’ student rent market is now hiring 10 people and approaching £500,000 funding.
Every November, millions of UK students face a scramble to find out-of-room accommodation. Many end up unsatisfied, hitting homes with wet, indifferent landlords and letting agents who don’t answer their calls.
The first years should decide in a few weeks with whom they will live throughout the next year. Those without sponsors must pay a full year’s rent up front.
“Students should be excited to get out and be independent for the first time,” said Hannah Chapatt, a 24-year-old Bristol University of English and Literature graduate.
Instead, they waste valuable time that could be spent studying or enjoying their time in battles with landlords and rental agencies, or searching for disappointing property.
“This cycle repeats every year – it doesn’t work for anyone and it has created a toxic market where students don’t trust owners and owners don’t trust students.”
Hannah decided to change all that. Standing outside the university library with donuts, she urged students to talk to her about their rental experiences—she was shocked at what she found.
Together with fellow University of Bristol Medicine colleague Pablo Giacome, she launched HYBR, an online platform that connects owners and students, offering free advice to both.
HYBR also holds home matching events, assists with contracts, gives students access to legal support and offers free and impartial advice on everything from filings to maintenance issues.
HYBR started in Bristol and is now expanding in university cities across the country, including Exeter, Liverpool and Sheffield. More than 1,000 students found homes through it.
Student “ambassadors” in each city keep HYBR’s finger on the student’s pulse.
Hannah now employs a team of 10 and has plans to expand to the rest of the UK and then the rest of the world.
“We have just brought in a great team to take the business to the next level. We are looking to raise £500,000 through angel investors and mutual funds,” Hannah said.
But this is not just a British problem and we want to start looking abroad as soon as possible.
“Ultimately, it is about fixing a broken market. I want to ask every part of the rental system and the status quo to see if there is a solution.
“Every part of the market is directed against disadvantaged students who have no guarantors – we also want to help them.”
So far, HYBR has funded itself with its own revenue and winning competitions. She recently won a year’s rent free in Swiss offices near Liverpool Street in London.
HYBR has found its feet with the help of the Basecamp Enterprise team within the University of Bristol Employment Service.
HYBR participated in the award-winning Growth Support Program, which matched them with a business mentor, and provided access to professional consultants and a series of workshops. They then went on to win £5,000 through the growth phase of the New Enterprise competition in 2020.
Stuart Johnson, Director of the University’s Employment Service, said: “HYBR is the key to changing the system. Hannah and her team saw a market that needed change and set out to do so in a rigorous fashion.
“It has been a pleasure to see them go from success to success and we wish them all the best for the future.”