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How Northern Ireland businesswomen are hatching some grand plans

The Entrepreneurial Spark Hatchery was launched by Ulster Bank to help start-ups reach their potential. Lisa Smyth talks to two female entrepreneurs about their firms

Published 05/04/2016

Becca Hume is developing a product which will transform and even save lives
Becca Hume is developing a product which will transform and even save lives
Becca shows off a prototype of her app which she began working on in 2014

It started out as an attempt to learn sign language so she could communicate with a colleague.

And now Becca Hume is developing a product which will transform and even save lives.

The 25-year-old from Newtownabbey is hoping to bring to the market an app that will allow people who cannot speak to contact the emergency services.

She hopes it will be the first in a long line of products created by her fledgling business, Becca Hume Designs.

"Basically, the company is all about creating designs for inclusivity and looking for opportunities to find limitations in products or services, that are maybe not accessible to everyone, and find a way to address that," she explained.

"Our first product is a non verbal method of contacting 999, but I do have other ideas that I hope I will be able to develop in future."

Becca was studying a masters in product design at the University of Ulster when she began to develop the idea for the app, having already identified a gap in the market.

She said: "Back when I was 16, I was working part-time in Marks & Spencer and I was working with a colleague who was deaf.

"It was the first time I had met a deaf person and there was obviously a communication barrier - and I wondered how I would be able to speak to them, so I went and learnt sign language.

"I have been going to classes ever since and have been working my way through the different levels.

"We were always encouraged by the teachers to get involved in the deaf community and so I have come into contact with lots of people with hearing problems over the years.

"That's where the idea for the app came from. At the moment, the products available are quite limited and this app will allow a lot more information to be passed on to the first responders."

Becca's decision to follow a career in product development is a fairly new development.

She originally studied silversmith and jewellery design, but took a career break for a year to help her dad set up his own business.

It was during this time that she decided to start Becca Hume Designs.

While it was a big step, it is one she would recommend.

"I would tell anyone thinking of starting up their own business not to be afraid to go for it," she said.

"My university tutor said to me that you should say yes to things and worry about it later and I think that's good advice." The development of the app has not been without its problems, however. Becca began working on it in July 2014 and believed it would be ready for the market before now, but as she is creating something that will be used in life or death situations, the quality of the app is crucial.

To this end, she has been working closely with British APCO - an independent organisation formed to promote, influence and advance the development of communications and information management for public safety professionals.

This has allowed her to ensure the app meets industry standards and she believes consultation with those who will use the app is an important aspect of product development.

She is currently looking for more investment to allow her to develop it further.

"We have working demos, prototypes to show people how it works, but it doesn't actually connect to 999 at the moment," said Becca.

Using the app, people can enter all their medical information into their mobile device so that it is passed on to the emergency services when required.

"You can create a user profile and all the medical history is stored," explained Becca.

Within 30 seconds of activation, and just a few simple steps, the emergency services are informed, and by using GPS, they can pinpoint the location of the person who needs help.

"It started out as something for people who are hard of hearing or deaf, but it can be used by anyone who finds themselves in a situation where they can't talk, maybe they have taken a stroke, heart attack or they've suffered an allergic reaction," Becca continued.

"It is also of use to anyone who is a victim of domestic violence and may be unable to speak.

"It is useful to anyone who is in a panicked situation, who might not know exactly where they are when they need help.

"As I was developing the app, I sat down and brainstormed on when you might need to call 999 but can't speak. I think it is important to do your research."

A successful marketing plan will also be key to the success of the device and Becca plans to begin by targeting organisations and charities who can promote the app to their members.

"In five years I would like to be doing this, running my company, and coming up with new products," she continued.

"Specifically I want to look at developing products that break down the barriers for people with disabilities and I hope that the business takes off and sustains itself."

Belfast Telegraph

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