Ever been to a conference or festival and had the feeling you were not quite in the right place at the right time – that you were missing something that was probably better, more hip, or more suited to your personality? Well that was exactly the experience of Breda Doherty and Catherine Morris when they attended what is perhaps the most exciting and important music event in the world – South by South West in Austin, Texas.
Breda and Catherine left feeling that they wished they had known a bit more in advance to make the best of things. And from that, two years ago, a business idea was formed. What if, they thought, they could provide a website that provided visitors with the inside tips to make the experience the best that is possible. This would also help conferences and festivals maximise attendees’ satisfaction and make it more likely that people would come back in following years.
An opportunity arose to pitch the idea, thanks to a start-up programme for new digital businesses that was then called Digital Derry and which has since been renamed CultureTech, a subsidiary of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.
Programme director Mark Nagurski suggested that the pair put the business idea forward to a new competition, the inaugural Digital Derry Seedcomp. If they persuaded the judges that theirs was one of Derry’s best new digital business proposals, they would be given intensive mentoring support. They pitched their idea to a panel of experts in June 2011 – and came third. From then on they were given mentoring support, not only from Nagurski, but also from Derry’s ‘Digital Ambassador’, Colm Long – the operations director for Facebook in Ireland.
“I then spent months and months researching the project, how to make it useful and how to make money from it,” explains Breda. As the proposal became more concrete, the Hubb.it (pronounced Hubbit) business and website – www.hubb.it – were developed. In the process they won support from a range of other organisations, including Esynergy, Seed UPS, Invest NI and the Creative Industries Innovation Fund.
Breda is the managing director and did most of the groundwork prior to launch. “I like to get things done,” she explains. “I have previous experience working in young start-ups. That helped me because in small business you are involved in everything.” While Catherine still supports the business, she is no longer closely involved with it because of time constraints. Today there are two other staff with Breda – one a content contributor and the other a business strategist. “Hopefully down the line we will have a massive team,” adds Breda.
The CultureTech festival in Derry last August was the ideal opportunity to launch the website and apply the business idea at a large conference for the first time. “We used CultureTech as a test bed to see how we could make Hubb.it useful for people who attended,” says Breda. “At CultureTech we were able to launch with very little money. Mark gave us a venue to use – that was great.”
Since then, Hubb.it has been very busy and is currently engaged on support and promotional activities for a music festival in Los Angeles, an arts festival in Scotland and the annual Electric Picnic in County Laois. It was also commissioned to support the recent European Business Network (EBN) conference in Derry, to assist delegates make the most from their attendance.
Breda explains how they operate. “We make an events page that has things like the event profile, where people can buy tickets, other pages with top tips on things to see, what to do, where to eat, where to stay in the local area. These are the things that organisers might not have time to do themselves. This can increase the life cycle of the event, in the months running up to it, keeping people informed and excited. It can improve the event experience. Afterwards we can help event organisers to analyse responses.”
Mark Nagursky at CultureTech has been key in helping the business get started, says Breda. “Mark has been absolutely brilliant. If not for entering that competition we would probably not have done anything. And from there, Mark has been giving us ongoing support. We have been really lucky and have been able to use existing contacts in Northern Ireland really well and get things from people who have been through this already.”
Following the positive experience at last year’s CultureTech, Hubb.it has been re-engaged to promote the event, which takes place in Derry in the second week of September. The signs are that both CultureTech and Hubb.it will celebrate another success.