Graduates making dreary college commute pay off

Graduates making dreary college commute pay off
Manal Mukhtar and Ellen Le Bas, founders of MLN, matching people according to the routes they take to and from their workplace.

Two UCD graduates have come up with a software solution for workers frustrated with their commute.

Ellen Le Bas and Manal Mukhtar founded MLN after bonding over their frustration with using public transport to get to college.

The software service aims to improve the commuter experience and help companies increase employee retention levels while reducing the costs of parking spaces as well as providing benefits for the environment.

Ms Le Bas said they are “passionate about sustainability and social entrepreneurship”.

“We were trying to find a sustainable and efficient solution. Half of the people are driving in cars by themselves and the other half are getting several buses to get somewhere,” she said.

Driving into college posed problems too. Ms Le Bas said that parking was an issue: “I could drive there in 10 or 15 minutes but spend up to an hour looking for a parking space — or get a bus which took 45 minutes.”

MLN’s software as a service (SaaS) model is aimed at medium and large organisations which pay a monthly subscription depending on the number of users. An app is free for employees who want a flexible real-time solution to commuting.

The founders worked on their research and validation of their idea while participating in UCD’s Nova programme. In June, their pitch won over judges of the UCD Start-up Stars competition who recognised its commercial potential.

The app is designed for use within organisations, matching people according to the routes they take to and from their workplace. The founders don’t intend to extend to a service between companies for safety and security reasons.

While they intend to expand the service to colleges at a later stage, early adopters will be enterprises, said Ms Mukhtar.

Ms Le Bas explained how the app works: “So, say, for example, I’m driving to UCD in the morning and I’m about to leave. Manal is having breakfast, and she sees that I’m leaving now so I’ll be passing her house in 10 minutes. So she requests a lift from me, and I can accept or reject the request. And if I accept, it will give me directions so that I can arrange a mutual pick up point.”

The app demonstrates the environmental benefits of carpooling with a feature showing how users are reducing their carbon footprint.

A gamification function which is still “a work in progress” will reward drivers and passengers with ‘pips’ every time they give or take a lift. The ‘pips’ can be exchanged for incentives such as coffees or lunches through partnerships with coffee shops and restaurants.

MLN intends to look into funding from Enterprise Ireland in the future. But, as overheads are low at the moment while Ms Le Bas develops the app, Ms Mukhtar said they want to keep equity in the company.

According to Ms Le Bas, younger generations are concerned with the sustainability ethos of potential employers. They don’t want to work somewhere that doesn’t reflect their values. “So, it’s a big selling point for companies that they have sustainable commuting options. That helps employee retention.”

Almost a quarter of workers have quit a job because of the commute, according to research. Ms Le Bas says that a more pleasant commute can improve employee productivity and “being stuck in traffic is really isolating”.

Referring to research by Daniel Kahneman and Alan B Krueger into the negative emotional effects of the daily commute which are mitigated when a driver is accompanied, Ms Le Bas said: “If you introduce a colleague or a passenger it makes the commute a more pleasant experience, which can improve mental health and productivity during the day.”

Commenting on the recent global carpooling revolution, Ms Mukhtar said the likes of BlaBlaCar and Lyft are B2C models, whereas “we’re offering a B2B model which can be tailored for everyone”.

The former tend to be for inter-city and long journeys and connecting strangers; MLN is looking at the daily commute.

MLN plans to begin testing to have the product ready by September to carry out a pilot.

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