Founder and CEO of Umii, Georgia Wheadon, launched her app to try to combat on-campus isolation, a nationwide issue that has worsened during the pandemic. She now works with several universities across the country to create friendships and connections on an interface that is safe, secure, and student friendly.
It is the time of year again where students are filling up campuses, ready to take on the next academic year and for many, the next stage into adult life. University is often an amazing experience that leads to lifelong friendships, excellent skills, and the degree that can help many launch their careers. But for some, moving to an entirely new place can be overwhelming and isolating. With mental health being an extremely prevalent issue amongst young people today, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic, establishing a strong support system or knowing how to reach out to people can be challenging.
Wheadon is all too familiar with this side of university. After growing up very closely with her twin sister, the pair chose to go to separate universities. While Georgia’s sister seemed to thrive during her first year, Georgia herself struggled to make connections with the people around her.
“I had an accident early on which meant I was temporarily housebound and as my course was Joint Honours, the lectures I was finally able to attend were made up of groups of people who had already formed friendships based on their own courses. My confidence and then my mental health suffered, which was exacerbated as my old school-friends shared their own excellent university experiences on social media.”
Wheadon was able to make the friendships she wanted in later years of her degree but over 40% of dropouts claim to have left their courses due to social issues or mental health problems. She realised she was far from the only one who struggled with establishing new friendships. After a year in industry, working for innovation company, We Are Nova, Wheadon was determined to find a solution to help people build the connections they both want and need.
“I don’t want anyone to have the same experience that I did. I want Umii to act as a preventative measure to isolation and loneliness, by giving students a place for lasting peer to peer relationships to be built.”
So, let’s talk about Wheadon’s creation: Umii. Umii is a social platform that partners directly with universities and focuses purely on cultivating friendships. It’s simple to use; students download the app, sign up, select their university, and create their profiles, adding their degree course, societies, and interests. Umii stands out from other apps of its type because of its working relationships with universities, allowing students to be safe in the knowledge that the people they are connecting with should be attending the same university as them. The app is already supported by University of Bolton, UCLan SU, Essex SU and the University of Hull. It was a challenge for the small team at Umii to be taken seriously by large educational institutions and earn the trust of establishments to prove that the app would be a significant benefit for their student population.
“We needed to prove our legitimacy and show how we could add value. We did this by offering potential customers three-month trials so they could see the benefits for themselves. They worked really well, Essex SU saw well over 8,000 student connections in those three months.”
And the app is always developing. Wheadon constantly communicates with student unions and users for feedback on how the app can be improved, with potential new features or additional services.
“It’s brilliant to see how engaged people are, and we’re delighted to look at all suggestions. We do have to stay loyal to the whole purpose of Umii though, and make sure that we don’t stray too far into the territory of other apps. We are about connecting students to prevent isolation and loneliness, but we are a small team, and it takes time to consider the features we could add to enrich the experience. It’s a challenge, but a welcome one!”
Wheadon is not dreaming small for her creation. The ultimate goal for her is to make Umii into a standard part of student life across the country and eventually, around the world. The student experience is not purely academic; social events, extracurricular activities, student organisations, and clubs are inherent parts of university life and Wheadon is determined to help young people establish those friendships, despite lockdowns or social distancing.
“I’d like Umii to be one of the first thing students think about when they get to University. Get to your room, download the app. It should be part of the whole arrival process. As well as onboarding more universities, we are considering ways in which the app can create face-to-face meetings, with bespoke student events and offers.”