EMBA graduate’s networking app helps put names to faces
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Having trouble remembering someone’s name? You know how important it is but still it escapes you, however hard you try, even if you were introduced just five minutes before. What if you need to make contact afterwards?
Andrea Sommer, the 36-year-old entrepreneur and founder of Hiver, a networking app, had exactly that problem and decided to do something about it. “I thought surely I’m not the only person who has that issue,” Sommer says. “It was personal. I’d go to a lot of networking events and come home with a stack of cards and I’d end up playing detective on LinkedIn, trying to find out who I had just talked to.”
A Brazilian-born German who studied in the US and now lives in the UK, Sommer was a consultant for Avanade, a joint IT professional services venture between Accenture and Microsoft, when she started studying for an executive MBA at London Business School in 2014. It was on this 20-month course that she came up with the idea for Hiver, a smartphone app that uses geolocation technology to provide information about whoever you are talking to. Against all the usual advice, she launched her start-up while still in her day job.
At conferences, people who have downloaded the app can use it to discreetly identify who they are talking to and provide a reference to their LinkedIn profile. You can check your phone to learn the title and post of the person you are engaged with, or make contact later.
There is an additional facility to add notes about the conversation you have had in case “you’re one of those people that wants to make little reminders of who they are,” adds Sommer. “It’s connecting the in-person networking experience with the online networking experience.”
Although the app is targeted at business networking events, it could ultimately be used for dating, or to help people with memory problems such as Alzheimer’s disease, or in environments such as hospitals, where it can be helpful to remember the names of doctors and nurses.
“It’s been devised to use at an event, not the street, but you could use it in several ways. It will work so long as you have enough of a concentration of people with the app. But you may not want it to work on a bus, for example,” Sommer says.
She came up with the idea during the new technology ventures element of her EMBA. A few months later she took part in the Entrepreneurship Summer School at LBS and was then accepted into the incubator that LBS runs with Deloitte, where she won the Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Founder Award. This helped Sommer and her co-founders, Oliver Pilgerstorfer and Kleomenis Katevas, to raise £150,000.
Now the fundraising is starting in earnest and Sommer has given up the day job to concentrate full time on Hiver, with a target of raising £350,000 in the next few months.
She is grateful, however, to her former employer for giving her the flexibility to pursue the business at work. “A lot of people think about flexibility in relation to parenting but it should be much broader than that,” she says, crediting Avanade for trusting her to get the job done. “They knew I was disciplined and diligent enough to figure it out. As long as I didn’t drop other commitments they were happy,” she says.
The course at LBS taught her a lot about innovation, she says, as well as giving her “the courage to do it”. Although she, “knew the ingredients, I didn’t know quite how to bake the cake,” she says. “I’d read a lot of case studies and books on entrepreneurship but when you’re starting a business there’s a lot of questions such as ‘is this right’.” LBS provided the support she needed. “It takes a village to build a business. It’s a community that’s generous and they have gone above and beyond in offering help,” she adds.
Most importantly perhaps, Sommer won the support of John Bates, a fellow of strategy and entrepreneurship at LBS and a professor at the summer school. Not only did he become chairman and an investor in the start-up but he also helped her raise funding through E100, an angel network tied to the business school, which has accounted for nine out of the company’s 15 investors so far.
As for whether entrepreneurship can be taught, Sommer says that “appetite for the controlled chaos that is entrepreneurship is just something you have”. But, she adds: “The discipline, using the business acumen, that’s definitely something that needs to be taught.”