Leon Ifayemi

Leon Ifayemi, co-founder and CEO of SPCE

SPCE: Redefining the student accommodation experience

Entrepreneur Leon Ifayemi tells BQ how proptech start-up SPCE is looking to turn the student accommodation market on its head after enticing big names from the likes of Barclays and Rothschild to join him…

Proptech start-up SPCE is a mobile app which aims to redefine the student house hunting journey by connecting renters to landlords quickly, safely, and easily.

The app is the brainchild of Leon Ifayemi, who was inspired by his own experiences as a student ambassador where he helped connect students with landlords and rental accommodation.

Noting the wide variety of requests and needs of students looking to find accommodation, he has since developed a solution to solve the common problems on both sides of the student rental market.

Joining forces with serial entrepreneur Omar Fahmi, who has almost a decade’s worth of experience in creative design and marketing, he is now the man at the head of proptech start-up SPCE, which is aiming to massively disrupt the student rental industry.

“Students are arguably the most vulnerable demographic renting today,” he told BQ. “The majority are living away from home for the first time, and are often unaware of what to look out for when renting. Not only does SPCE enable students to find and secure properties quickly, it also protects them from being taken advantage of.

“The app enables students to secure properties in the UK from anywhere in the world. This means international students can find and secure a property they’re happy with before they even arrive in the UK – removing the hassle and high costs usually involved in finding a place for students to live abroad.

“Unlike other property companies, SPCE keeps the whole renting relationship online within the app, even after the contract has been signed. As such, all communication between students and landlords is saved on the app for future reference, so if a dispute arises around deposits and lasts for more than 72 hours, SPCE will step in and act as an impartial arbitrator.”

Prior to launching SPCE, Leon was working in private equity in the City, but the concept of SPCE had been forming in his mind since his second year of university.

“During my time as a student ambassador I found there were several common problems on both sides of the student rental market,” he adds. “I saw a space in the market for a truly disruptive solution and decided I wanted to be the person to make it happen.”

It was whilst he was working in the City however that he met Omar Fahmi and they got talking about the idea behind SPCE. Omar, a serial entrepreneur, loved the concept and the pair decided to try and turn the idea into a reality.

“Omar and I met through a mutual friend at Barclays and after working on a side project together, we knew we’d hit upon something special,” Leon said. “After discussing the concept of SPCE, we both knew it would provide a real solution to the issues faced by students and landlords when renting.

“Omar has nearly a decade’s experience in creative design and marketing brands internationally as well as growing start-ups, so it was a no brainer to go into business together. Finding the right people who were as passionate about the concept of SPCE has been essential in terms of getting the company off the ground.”

After drafting up a business plan they began working on the business model. Once they had something they could bring to market, they decided to begin raising the capital needed to turn the business into a reality.

This led to the launch of a crowdfunding campaign via online crowdfunding platform Seedrs. Prior to this, the business had been completely self-funded but this new capital would allow them to bring on board new investors who also really believed in the project.

Leon explains: “We chose to go down the crowdfunding route as it opens the opportunity for more people to invest, even those who aren’t professional investors.

“There are lots of people out there who share SPCE’s vision of making the student rental market fairer, more transparent, and safer for all involved.

“We wanted to give these people the opportunity to invest in the business in a tangible way that will make a difference not just to students and landlords today but also to future student renters and landlords.”

The campaign proved a huge hit and despite the fact that the app was still in pre-production at the time, the campaign ended up raising over £280,000. The funding will now be used to add the finishing touches to the app before it hits the market later this year.

“We will be using this funding to develop the SPCE app before it soft launches in late 2017 in collaboration with six of the UK’s top universities,” said Ifayemi.

“We want to launch with a fully working product to avoid the pitfalls of going to market with a MVP. The funding will also go towards onboarding landlords to the application, as we work on promoting our free listing for landlords till 1 Oct 2018.”

SPCE, which is based in The Shard, now boasts a team of 13 and has already attracted senior names from Barclays, Rothschild, and Volume.

And it doesn’t stop there. Looking forward, the SPCE team have their eyes set on attracting all of the UK’s universities to the platform and are also looking to diversify into new markets.

Leon concluded: “Our plans for the future are to have collaborations with every major university in the country, becoming the go-to app for students looking to rent and landlords looking to rent to students.

“In terms of technology, we want to integrate virtual reality into our platform so that students will be able to ‘view’ as many properties as they like, ensuring they make the best decision about where they live during some of the most important years of their life. For landlords, we hope that this will enable them to grow their personal portfolios and ensure they get the right tenants in their properties.

“We also want to get involved in social impact initiatives to change the way governments perceive the sharing economy and contribute towards developing policy. Diversifying our offerings so students can access moving, cleaning and storage services, and landlords can access insurance offerings and surveyor services is also something we will look to develop over the coming years.”

Leon Ifayemi’s top tips for start-ups:

  • You must ensure your product has a strong USP that you believe in and can clearly define to potential investors.
  • Secondly, but related, knowing your competitors is crucial to achieve this. If you enter an investment meeting believing your product is unique when there’s another business doing the exact same thing, you’ll be stuck before you even get off the ground.
  • Finally, make sure you have the right team around you. Having people who are as passionate about your product as you are is really important for when you face those inevitable knock-backs. You need people who have the resilience to keep going and will push you to be your best.