SAFE AND THE CITY
Who: Jillian Kowalchuk, 32, from Edgware, founder and CEO. Previously a public health consultant.
What: An app founded in February 2017, available to download, to help people safely navigate their way around cities, avoiding potentially dangerous routes and areas where users have reported harassment.
Why: “From my own personal experience,” said Jillian. “When I moved over from Canada to London, I was relying on navigation tools like Google Maps or Citymapper, which often only routed me the fastest ways. That put me into environments like alleyways or parks at night that made me feel uncomfortable.
“One night I was doing a shortcut through an alleyway in Soho to meet a friend and two men were getting quite aggressive in their comments and gestures.
“I was able to get out of the situation but was left with this uneasy feeling of another woman having to walk there.
“I wanted to be able to leave some sort of indication to her or a man in that situation to forewarn them.”
How: “The app is a navigation system that layers on crime information from the Met Police, lighting information, open businesses and crowdsourced information around antisocial behaviour and harassment,” said Jillian.
“You plan your routes like any other navigation system but there are safety features like 999 on every screen so if you are in a dangerous situation, you have the ability to respond.
“In the future, we want to build that out to allow trackability and an escalation sequence if you aren’t where you say you are.
“We’re also working with businesses to identify safe sites and routes. They pay us to have the exposure of being listed on the app as a safe site in an emergency.
“They get training on emergency procedures that our police advisor has created and soft skills on what sexual harassment is.
“On the app, they display what they can give you in an emergency such as a phone charge, whether they will call someone or a cab for you.”
What’s next: “We’re going to be working with Old Street District Partnership Connect to connect with a thousand or more businesses in the area to drive community safety,” she said. “We will then move into an integration strategy with other products like Airbnb or Tinder, to identify where you would rather have your date with a stranger and also how to navigate there safely.
“And larger than that will be the information network, collating user behaviour within the app and whether they are rating the routes safe or not so we can personalise routes based on where people feel safe.
“We also want to be worldwide. At the moment, it is just available for London but we have 500 unique reports on the app and over 3,500 downloads and have just launched on Android.”
On Plexiglass: “It’s great being here,” added Jillian. “We have had some great conversations about how we can further our business.
“Our aim while here is to close our raise of £300,000 seed investment, make Plexal a safe site – we’re in discussions about that – and to embed ourselves in east London.”
On being a female tech founder: “As a female founder, I often find I am one of few in the tech sector,” she said. “I have found it a challenge. I was a bit naive about the ecosystem I was coming into – I had a few situations where I was sexually harassed by investors or developers.
“Off the back of that I created a women’s collective called Fem Tech Talks, which tries to unpack diversity, unconscious bias and how we create a community to support each other.”