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Handy funding for EBIN graduate's start-up company


18 October 2011

Handy Elephant, a start-up company founded by MSc E-Business and Innovation (EBIN) alumnus Ben Wirtz, has won a place on the Citrix Startup Accelerator programme, and with it, investment from the US software giant and space in its Silicon Valley incubator.

Handy Elephant - which is developing a productivity app (Unifyo) that keeps business professionals on top of their relationships across a range of different communication channels (like phone, SMS, email and social networks) - was the only UK startup to make the finals of a competition dominated by US, and particularly Californian, ventures.

We asked Ben to tell us more about Handy Elephant and the influence of his LUMS degree.

Ben studied on the MSc E-Business and Innovation programme in 2009/10. He chose the degree because of its entrepreneurial nature, and it was from one of the programme's tasks - to come up with and develop a business idea - that Ben began his own journey as an entrepreneur.

According to Ben, the support he received from staff at Lancaster made a real difference to the success of his developing ideas. He remembers how "all doors were open at Lancaster", and that staff "took a real interest in helping to make the most of my ideas. They gave their time and feedback, even beyond their direct duties, without which I wouldn't have got to where I am now".

Handy Elephant is developing a productivity app for business professionals who have to maintain a large number of relationships across multiple channels (e.g. Phone, SMS, Email, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook). It is like a personal assistant that tells users who they need to follow up with, when is the best time to get in touch, and which channels will be most effective. The user experience is highly automated, seamless and proactive, so users can spend more time on generating business, and less time managing contacts and data.

The app has potential for all users of mobile communication channels, and in the future Ben and the Handy Elephant team hope to expand it to the web.

Advice for budding entrepreneurs

Ben's experience has taught him the value of getting started "doing something" with a business idea, not just dreaming about it. It is important to be flexible as ideas will change and evolve, also to be open to other people talking about your idea and offering their feedback and input. He feels that "at the beginning, it really helps being involved in all the processes of the business yourself", before expanding and taking on extra people to run parts of the project.

Ben spent a year programming Handy Elephant himself and developing the company without external funding. To make the next step, expanding the app to the web, Ben and the Handy Elephant team are currently hiring further talent.