A Cardiff-based young entrepreneur is aiming to help reduce street harassment experienced by women and members of the LGBTQ+ community with the launch of a first-of-its-kind street safety app with support from the Welsh Government’s youth entrepreneurship service, Big Ideas Wales.
23-year-old graduate, Jack Blundell, began developing RouteBuddies in 2021 during his final year of a degree in applied software engineering at Cardiff University, after reading countless disturbing stories of street harassment in and around Cardiff on social media.
A recent investigation by UN Women UK found that 97% of women across the UK aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed, with a further 96% not reporting the incident as they didn’t believe it would change anything.
RouteBuddies is a free safety app that allows users to meet in groups of three or more and walk home together across the Welsh capital. Providing physical safety and connectivity, users sign-up by entering their full details and a valid picture ID, both of which are completely hidden to other users and verified by an internal team using strict background checks.
During authentication users can choose who they would prefer to meet over the app by inputting their preferences on gender and age, and set the app to different modes, including student and LGBTQ+ mode. By searching their home address, users are automatically paired with people in nearby locations. The app them sets a meet-up location and works out the safest route home for all.
Jack said: “While at university I saw countless posts on Facebook from peers who had experienced street harassment. At one point there were three or more posts a day, so people began setting up groups and live sharing their locations too feel safer. I couldn’t help but think ‘people need physical safety now more than ever, so much more can be done’.
“The skills I learnt during my degree in applied software engineering means I was able to develop an app that incorporates trust and safety. RouteBuddies’ users can be identified only by their name and close route tracking helps to keep people safe on the streets. I really hope RouteBuddies will contribute to making Cardiff a safer city.”
Many women have taken to social media to document their experiences of street harassment, including Emma Grayson whose 10-minute live stream on TikTok received 2 million views and supported the criminalisation of street harassment which came into effect in December 2022.
Jack launched RouteBuddies with the support of Big Ideas Wales, a Welsh Government funded service that, as part of Business Wales, aims to support anyone between the age of 5 and 25 to develop a business idea, including students and graduates, as part of its commitment to the Young Person’s Guarantee.
Jack heard about Big Ideas Wales when he approached the Cardiff University Enterprise scheme with a basic business plan in-hand. The university instantly directed Jack to Big Ideas Wales where he was put into contact with Business Advisor Amanda Ataou.
Jack and Amanda meet weekly to discuss the ongoing development of RouteBuddies and solidify the ever-growing business plan. Over the past year, alongside offering support with business paperwork and idea development, Amanda has supported Jack in applying for the Young Persons Start-Up Grant and encouraged him to attend the bi-annual Bootcamp to Business event.
During the Bootcamp to Business event, Jack attended a wealth of masterclasses including self-promotion, pitching and social media marketing led by industry professionals and Big Ideas Wales Role Models. Jack was one of seven award winners at the esteemed event, walking away with the gold award for best pitch.
Discussing Jack’s success, Amanda said: “It is entrepreneurs like Jack that inspire me to be a Business Advisor. RouteBuddies is an inclusive and passionate business with a sole aim to make the streets a safer place for everyone.
“Jack has squeezed every single piece of advice and support from our meetings and grasped every opportunity. RouteBuddies is thriving because of his dedication, and I have no doubt that this business will change the lives of so many young people across the country.”
Discussing the support provided to him, Jack said: “I walked into my first meeting with Amanda with a mammoth, muddled business plan but no idea what my next steps should be. She helped me clarify my goals for RouteBuddies, streamline my business plan and start putting my aims into action.
“Over the past year I’ve learnt so much about being entrepreneurial, received countless opportunities to connect with the service and likeminded entrepreneurs, and been lucky enough to receive financial support from Big Ideas Wales. I could not have asked for more and am beyond grateful.”
In the coming months Jack hopes to strengthen RouteBuddies’ safety measures by introducing tracking triggers which will not only notify users if members of the group are lingering but will also notify other members to move on before authorities are notified and their trust level drops.
Contact lists will also be available, allowing the app to send automatic updates including when you’re on your way home, when you’ve reached your house or when your phone has turned off unexpectedly, to chosen contacts.