Jillian Kowalchuk is hoping her start-up, Safe & The City helps build a safer community for everyone. I invited Jillian to YHP to share her story & reason why she decided to start a business. This is her story.
Hi there, thanks for agreeing to share your story on YHP. Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I’ve worked in various countries, including Uganda, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand and now the UK. I’ve also visited over 50 countries to date. During these travel and work experiences, I was exposed to different situations and living conditions of people. It has had a profound effect on me, in that it made me realise the serious issues these countries and cultures face that are not always open for discussion.
This made me passionate on improving equality and address difficult topics. I therefore decided to pursue my MSc in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medecine and used my psychology degree to advance behavior change programmes to prevent infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS. I then worked as a global public consultant at various private and public organisations, as well as being a researcher at UCL London.
After a bad experience walking the streets of London, I became an active advocate for gender equality, and became determined to eradicate a difference kind of epidemic, and one usually invisible to many – sexual harassment. This is how I became founder and CEO of Safe & The City.
Tell me about the early days, the type of challenges you initially encountered?
In its early days Safe & The City faced a lot of challenges, myself included as a first-time founder in a new city, yet I consistently progressed my business through tireless hard work and continuous seeking of support and council. Specifically, raising funding and finding development support put me into a number of situations where I experienced sexual harassment despite the nature of my product. Despite this I found the opportunity not only to found FemTechTalks, but to find tangible solutions to issues often unreported.
What is your company? And what are you trying to solve with it?
Safe & The City (SatC) is a revolutionary mobile app to safely navigate, share and rate users to build a safer community one step at a time. SatC utilises a data-driven approach to train businesses to respond in an emergency, integrate with into other platforms and offer an AI solution to designing out crime and help everyone feel safe.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
We have received the Unltd Grow It Award for our excellence in as grant from Geovation Accelerator programme.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
The first few months went by very quickly, as I was also working part-time at UCL. It was difficult to juggle and also revert back to a limited budget while other friends of similar stages of life were growing their income, leisure time and fun activities. However, the early support and validation I received from nearly everyone I spoke with about what I was building was so important. Through my market research and testimonies on many intimate stories about sexual harassment and violence this continued to carry me through the challenges of entrepreneurship.
How did you initially get traction?
Predominately through our users, supporters and partners word-of-mouth. We had almost no budget for traditional marketing, but the word of mouth reached press and media outlets who were actively looking for products and solutions around solving the sexual harassment crisis both inside workplaces and out in the streets.
Why did you choose to join the Plexiglass programme and what have you got out of it so far?
I chose to join the plexiglass programme as I knew I would benefit extensively from networking and learning, and it wouldn’t only benefit my business but my confidence.
The programme has superseded my expectations, especially around the other Plexiglass members in the cohort. We were given a mentor/coach throughout the programme which was another unquestionably successful female entrepreneur. The champions and the surrounding networks who wanted to see these female businesses succeed helped identify where to place our energy. We are happy to announce that Plexal is now one of our clients, and will become an identified Safe Site within the Safe & The City app. We are also working with the premier design and branding agency, Idea East, who’s experience speaks for itself once you set foot in Plexal.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
Invest in myself, the knowledge I need to run my business and the networks I surround myself in.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
"Change is aligning your focus, energy, and time with other like-minded people to become an unstoppable force." It always comes down to the people, which is why Safe & The City has made such great strides.
What should we be expecting from yourself and your team for the rest of 2018?
Growth, exposure and impact!
We will be doing a major redesign of our brand, scaling our Safe & The City members and userbase and using this annoymised data to create tangible changes in the community to help people feel safer.
If your company is interested in becoming a Safe & The City member to not only train your staff to be equipped to support general public in times of need or crisis, but to take the same approach to tackling sexual harassment in the workplace, please get in touch.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Believe in yourself, as you are the biggest barrier to your own success.
The greatest challenges will give you the most powerful lessons in life and the opportunities to grow.
Discipline yourself. It won’t be an easy journey, although others may see it that way. Make sure to take care of yourself through morning routine, meditation, exercise and surrounding yourself with people who raise you up.