University of Bristol: The 24 year old fixing the ‘toxic’ student rental market

Each November millions of UK students face a scramble to find accommodation outside of halls. Many end up unhappy, with houses beset with damp, uncaring landlords and letting agents who don’t answer their calls.

First years have to decide in a few short weeks who they will live with for the entire next year. Those without guarantors must pay a full year’s rent in advance.

“Students should be excited about moving out and being independent for the first time,” said 24 year old University of Bristol English and Literature graduate, Hannah Chappatte.

“Instead they waste valuable time that could be spent studying or having fun locked in battles with landlords and lettings agencies, or trawling through disappointing properties.

“Every year this cycle repeats – it doesn’t work for anyone and has created a toxic market where students don’t trust landlords and landlords don’t trust students.”

Hannah decided to change all that. Standing outside a University library with doughnuts, she enticed students to talk to her about their rental experiences – and was shocked by what she found.

With fellow Bristol Medicine student Pablo Giacomi she launched HYBR, an online platform that links up landlords and students, and dispenses free advice to both.

HYBR also holds housemate matcher events, helps with contracts, gives students access to legal support and offers free, impartial advice on everything from deposits to maintenance issues.

HYBR started in Bristol and is now expanding into university cities across the country, including Exeter, Liverpool and Sheffield. More than 1,000 students have found houses through it.

Student ‘Ambassadors’ in every city keep HYBR’s finger on the student 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 senior team to take the business to the next level. We are looking to raise £500,000 through angel investors and venture funds,” said Hannah.

“But this isn’t just a UK problem and we want to start looking abroad as soon as possible.

“Ultimately, this is about fixing a broken a market. I want to question every part of the rental system and the status quo to see if there’s a solution out there.

“Every part of the market is geared against underprivileged students who don’t have guarantors – we also want to help them.”

Up until now HYBR has funded itself from its own revenue and winning competitions. It recently won a year’s free rent in swish offices near Liverpool Street in London.

HYBR found its feet with help from the Basecamp Enterprise Team within the University of Bristol Careers Service.

HYBR took part in their award-winning Growth Support Programme, which matched them with a business mentor, provided access to professional consultants and a series of workshops. They then went on to win £5,000 through the Growth Stage of the New Enterprise Competition in 2020.

Stuart Johnson, Director of the University’s Careers Service, said: “HYBR is the archetypal disrupter. Hannah and her team saw a market that needed change and set about making that happen in dogged fashion.

“It’s been a joy to see them go from success to success and we wish them the best of luck in the future.”

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