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Technology entrepreneur saves JobCentre Plus

Jonathan Savitt launched iStop Kiosk in 2007 as a joint venture with Colorama Pharmaceuticals CEO Arun Patel. Patel is a successful entrepreneur in his own right. His family business started life as a photographic printing company but diversified into pharmaceuticals in 2002, growing into a £171m turnover firm.

Patel stumped up the cash to fund the R&D while Savitt came up with the "virtual shopping" technology. "We’re not a metal-basher," he says. "This is all IP."

The idea was to create a solution to support inner city and rural pharmacies that wanted to give customers access to products they wouldn’t usually stock. "Colorama Pharmaceuticals fulfils the order," explains the entrepreneur. "But the outlet assumes no risk. They don’t have to risk cash by buying the stock up front. But they give their customers greater choice. It’s win/win."

Savitt installed 60 iStop kiosks around the north east to test the concept. It was a resounding success. And Savitt soon realised that his technology had scope for further applications. "The iStop Kiosks basically connect people to a local hub," explains Savitt. "That can be a post office or even a newsagents. We realised it was possible to use the iStop Kiosks to keep local communities up to date with vital information, as well as products."

Soon after the company launched, the entrepreneur was approached by development agency One North East to supply communities with housing, job and even swine flu information via the iStop Kiosks. "My engagement with JobCentre Plus then took place in late 2007," says Savitt. "We live in difficult times. Job centres are closing down as the government attempts to cut costs but unemployment is rising. They needed a solution." This is where the iStop Kiosk came in.

"We are now the only company carrying their Jobpoint programme, via touchscreen, to access job opportunities locally and nationally," says Savitt. "The iStop Kiosks are plugged into the Jobseeker mainframe. This means that I can now install remote, unmanned and free Jobcentres around the UK."

Jonathan Savitt projects that there will be 7,500 units active across the UK over next three years. "It’s a vital service," says the entrepreneur. "Access to an iStop Kiosk means that jobseekers incur no travel expenses. They can apply straight away."

Ultimately, the iStop Kiosk is a no brainer for government. Savitt says: "Job listings are very heavy on the Treasury. It costs £733 for every person in this country signed on per month. That’s a fixed amount. If you put one kiosk in one location in one year, and just two people start work two months earlier, you can see the sort of savings that can be made: £1,400 a year, per person. Multiply that by the jobless total and you have huge figures.

"It only costs £250 per month to run a kiosk," the entrepreneur continues. "Our figures show that the average kiosk attracts a minimum of 250 users per month: that equates to £1 per person. That’s the only cost to the Department for Work and Pensions. It’s a cheap way of reaching people."

Savitt predicts that turnover at the firm could reach anywhere between £20-40m, depending on the outcome of current negotiations. "We’re in lengthy discussions with the NHS at the moment," says Savitt. "And I’m delighted that Martha Lane Fox has joined government as digital champion. I’m meeting with her to discuss this project and with her help, we could extend our offering to communities across the UK."

And the opportunities are endless. First stop: Great Britain. Next stop: the world. "We’re heading for under-developed countries next," says Savitt.

You can’t stop the iStop.

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