Irish start-up with idea for ‘New Ways to Grow’ in Europe wins top prize of €50,000
The Freebird Club offers peer-to-peer social travel and homestay model for older people and is one of three winners of the 2015 European Social Innovation Competition.
This year’s theme was New Ways to Grow, and The Freebird Club from Ireland was selected out of over 1,400 applications from over 40 countries.
The judges selected winners with the potential to increase growth and sustain not only financial value, but also social progress for citizens, government and enterprises alike.
The other winners were inclusive urban beekeeping foundation Apiform, and accessible car sharing platform Wheeliz.
The three winners highlight social and environmental issues that are concerns for many Europeans. They are addressing our ageing population, inclusion and accessibility in creative ways.
The competition looked specifically for ideas that would promote ‘New Ways to Grow’ across European society and aims to enable new kinds of economic growth that will create systemic change through positive impact on society.
Judges were looking for ideas with the potential to bring value to individuals, communities, countries and entire regions, and projects with a mission that reflects an issue at the heart of many Europeans’ lives.
Irish winner The Freebird Club uses the to create a community platform to enable ‘peer-to-peer’ homestays and holidays for older adults. The idea takes ‘collaborative economy’ principles and applies them to address practical issues such as loneliness and financial sustainability for older people.
It will operate as an international members club based around social travel. Freebird members who choose to become ‘hosts’ can make their spare rooms available to fellow members to come and stay for a nightly rate.
These homestays will always involve the host being present, as this concept focuses as much on enjoying the company as the accommodation. To facilitate compatible host/guest matching, members will have profiles so that hosts and guests can learn a bit about each other before deciding on a stay.
The club offers a new way of travelling for independent older adults, a means to unlock some of the asset value of their homes and earn an income, as well as promoting social and cultural interaction in later life.
Founder Peter Mangan came up with the idea when he started to rent out his cottage in County Kerry, through Airbnb and other sites, and his retired father was on hand to meet and greet visitors on their arrival.
It was clear he enjoyed the interaction, and ended up be-friending many of the people who came to stay; particularly some of the older guests, whose feedback on the social dimension was often exceptional.
While this idea was conceived in Peter’s home place in Killorglin, County Kerry, it sprung early roots in London last year, when it was selected for the Impact Hub Fellowship for Longer Lives – an international incubation programme based at the Impact Hub King’s Cross, specifically designed for new start-up ideas that address our ageing society.
Having moved to London to take up the 3 month Fellowship, Peter searched for and stayed with a number of different ‘senior’ hosts throughout the city over a two and a half week period, using different websites.
This involved moving every other night in order to sample the process both online and on the ground. This confirmed for Peter not just the value and viability of the idea, but also that older people make great hosts.
Over the course of the Fellowship, Peter conducted a number of focus group sessions in Open Age Centres around London. The feedback was highly positive; generating excitement among participants at the prospect of being able to use it.
Consultative meetings were also held with experts in the ageing sector in Ireland and the UK which also provided very positive and constructive feedback.
Peter is now undertaking a pilot project before Christmas to test out both the web platform and the live Freebird experience, before hoping to launch the business in early 2016. This pilot involves a number of guests from London connecting, booking and staying with selected Freebird hosts in county Kerry.
The intention is to test and validate the full online process, as well as the real life experience of hosts and guests on the ground.
Peter believes The Freebird Club has particular potential in terms of connecting the older Irish diaspora, both with their peers in Ireland and also with each other internationally, and he has had discussions with a number of Irish diaspora organisations in this regard.
Founder Peter Mangan said: “The Freebird Club is a real ‘heart and soul’ project which aims to connect older people in a very real way that can improve their quality of life.
From an Irish perspective, I believe it has particular potential to connect the older Irish diaspora in very positive ways, both with their peers in Ireland and also internationally. Being chosen as a winner is an incredible boost; it gives us real credibility and belief in our project.
We’re determined to make a difference and want to provide something really positive and inspiring for older adults.”
In memory of social innovator Diogo Vasconcelos, the Competition sought game changing projects from anyone with an idea to advance Europe’s growth model. This year top of Europeans’ agenda were ideas around inclusion, education and young people, employment, health and ageing, climate change, food waste and the environment. Daan Weddepohl, competition judge and founder and CEO of collaborative borrowing platform Peerby said: “All of the judges were very impressed with the quality of applications this year. Each of the semifinalists and finalists should take being shortlisted as a stamp of credibility and an endorsement of their creativity and innovation.”
“Deciding on three winners this year was very difficult, but we took into account the ideas ability to stimulate growth in their local communities and beyond, as well as the strength and quality of the business plan to address social issues that affect us every day.
“I wish all the luck to our winners and to those who didn’t win – it doesn’t end here.
“Take advantage of the amazing network of social innovators you have met over the past year, stay involved in the social innovation community in your country and across Europe, and keep working hard to make positive changes in any way that you can.”A s part of their journey through this year’s Competition, each of the 3 winners – along with 27 other semi-finalists – took part in the social innovation academy, hosted over 3 days by a previous finalist in the 2013 Competition, Magdas Hotel. Since being part of the Competition, Magdas is now successfully operating a 78- room social business hotel in Vienna, currently offering employment and training to refugees and asylum seekers from over 14 different countries.
Peter continued: “Our journey this year has been really exciting and full of learning. “Thanks to the European Commission and the social innovation community, we benefitted greatly from our participation in the Competition.
“My business partner Nga-Hong Lau and I particularly enjoyed the mentoring academy where we worked on our business plan, practiced pitching, and prepared ourselves for what lies ahead.” Each winner will receive a €50,000 prize to progress and implement their concept.
For more info on The Freebird Club visit the website: www.thefreebirdclub.com