What it meant to me to win the start-up series – Matt Oldham, Unizest
Thousands of overseas students and migrant workers are being discouraged from coming to the UK due to the difficulty of obtaining a UK bank account. Often times you will need a UK bank account to live somewhere or to deposit your earnings, but the rigmarol that comes with setting up a high street bank is gross.
Matt Oldham, CEO of Unizest, has set up an e-account for foreign workers and students coming to the UK. It solves a major problem for recruiters of the 1.5 million contingent workers who come to the UK every year.
Although it hasn’t even started yet, the Unizest team was selected as one of eight winners in the final round of the start-up series competition, sharing £ 1.1million.
Where did the idea for Unizest come from? What’s the problem that it solves?
The idea came from a job Tony Shawcross, one of our co-founders, and I were doing at the time with one of our clients, a large CRM organization that worked in the recruiting field. They represented the challenge they had in bringing workers outside the UK to the UK seamlessly. The problem they encountered was that it was very difficult for these workers to get a UK bank account if they did not have a UK housing history. And that creates problems for both recruiters and the individuals themselves. It created delays and friction.
As we digged deeper, we found that this was the same problem for a whole host of other users, such as international students who often have to make payments for things like housing before actually starting their courses.
Unizest is a simple UK e-account that is very easy to get for non-UK residents. You can even apply for and set up an account before leaving your home country. And once you’re here, we can issue you a Debit MasterCard and your account will be ready for you from day one.
> See also: The Start-Up Series Contest – over £ 1 million invested in the latest winners
You started talking about Unizest 18 months ago. When did you actually start?
We haven’t started yet. We plan to go live in June. We founded the company almost exactly 12 months ago. We held our heads together and found out what the problem was six months before going out, and confirmed our thinking by talking to people in the recruiting area.
Over the past year we have been preparing to set up the technology and prepare for a proper launch. This process has taken 12 months since we started the company.
With all of these new barriers between the UK and the rest of Europe, has Brexit actually helped your business?
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Brexit helped. It’s probably neutral. There has always been an influx of overseas labor that goes back hundreds of years. It won’t stop. So let’s wait and see if these patterns change.
For example, international students are essential to higher education. And by far the largest overseas country in terms of students who come here is China. There were around 220,000 Chinese students in the UK in 2019, which is clearly not affected by Brexit.
As mentioned, we first had serious discussions about Unizest about 18 months ago. And that was obviously before Covid. At that time we talked to recruiters about large construction projects that obviously did not materialize due to the current economic situation.
However, other pockets of demand are still there and growing. For example, the need for adult caregivers has increased enormously. And there are other sectors that the UK economy obviously does not fill, such as health workers or seasonal farm workers. These roles still have to be filled.
“People are not coming to the UK to get a bank account, they are coming here to start a new life.”
Why did you choose the Start-up Series competition, what attracted you?
When we saw the criteria and the process, we thought why not? The actual application process wasn’t particularly bureaucratic, but rather focused on who we are, what our values are. And we really enjoyed working on that.
When we got into a dialogue with Matthew Cushen and Paul Soanes at Worth Capital, it became much more of a conversation. And it felt collaborative, pretty informal. We were also introduced to some of the previous winners, which was useful for them to talk about their own experiences. It became clear that the start-up series not only offered investments, but also help, advice and concrete support. That got more and more attractive the deeper we delved into the process.
Support and advice were part of the appeal?
If you’re a start-up in need of funding, there are plenty of places to go. As we started talking to more and more people, it was clear to us that in addition to the money, a setting and people nearby would add value.
We have already started feeling the benefits of this as we have received practical help and support in developing our value proposition. External input is good because you can get a little bit into your own ideas. It feels a lot more like a partnership.
What advice would you have for other entrepreneurs considering taking part in the next round of the start-up series?
I would say give it a try. Because there really is nothing to lose. I mean, even if we weren’t successful, we would feel that the process was useful in fine-tuning our story. And we have received feedback from experienced entrepreneurs and investors.
Where do you see Unizest in a year? Are there any milestones you would like to achieve?
Our first milestone will go live in June. We are currently in a user acceptance test. We are about to begin a soft launch phase. And hopefully we’re living in time for the all-important summer season when it comes to recruiting, not just for international students but also for seasonal migrants in the food and agriculture sectors.
Hopefully by July / August we will build up our first partnerships with which we are already in dialogue.
People don’t come to the UK to get a bank account, they come here to start a new life, whether it’s a new life at work or in education.
In 12 months we will really understand a lot more about our customers and their needs. In terms of customer numbers, we believe this is some type of product that will grow through referral. People talking to people at home about their experiences and what they did when they came here.
A whole year seems a long way from where we are now. We are so busy getting ready to take off. But I think it’s going to be a really exciting time for Unizest. We are looking forward to it.
The Start-Up Series competition
The series opens for applications each month with the aim of choosing one or two winners to receive:
• Up to £ 250,000 SEIS / EIS Equity Funding (subject to due diligence, terms and conditions).
• At least 2 years of valuable practical help from experienced and battle-tested entrepreneurs
• Media coverage on smallbusiness.co.uk and other channels to promote your business and track your journey.
We are looking for B2B or B2C transactions across all industries. As long as your company is entitled to SEIS or EIS HMRC advance insurance, we will review your application.
We will be impressed with innovative products or services in high-growth or underserved markets with the potential to build a popular brand. If you can demonstrate these, you have a chance of fighting.
As the investment comes from a fund regulated by EIS & SEIS FCA, companies considering entry must meet the following criteria set by the HMRC:
• You must be a UK resident and run a UK based business
• You must be over 18 years of age at the time of entry
• Certain financial services and real estate companies are unlikely to be qualified.
Find out How to enter the start-up series Here