This startup has a solution to SA’s university accommodation shortage

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South African students made the news over the past few weeks by protesting against the lack of housing provision at the University of Cape Town (UCT). But one startup thinks they have a solution to the problem for UCT and other universities across the country.

Disrupt Africa last caught up with South African startup TheRoomLink in December 2014. The startup, launched in January of that year, is a property matching site connecting renters with rooms, with founder Liezl Hesketh saying the model was similar to internet dating.

Those advertising rooms and those wishing to rent them must complete a profile on the site, with TheRoomLink’s matching engine then delivering unique matches to each person via email on a daily basis. Once a room is found, profiles can be unpublished and emails are not sent until the service is needed again.

Over the past year, Hesketh said the startup had seen consistent growth on its website, and had rolled out a solution to help universities manage their off-campus student accommodation, enabling students to get access to accredited, real-time, online housing.

Each university gets a dedicated page linked to from their website, while landlords register their properties and can manage availability. Landlords pay TheRoomLink fee, meaning it is a low-cost solution for both the university and students.

The university can decide what students should see, whether it is all off-campus accommodation, off-campus accommodation accredited by any organisation, or only off-campus accommodation accredited by their own organisation.

Hesketh said there has been some interest thus far, though interested universities were unable to get approval in time for the 2016 academic year. It has been slow going getting other institutions to adopt it.

“We’ve been talking to the Department for Higher Education to get adoption from a higher level, but progress is slow there too,” she said.

“Bottom line is they all love it, but all of them are too risk-adverse to take the plunge.  But, you only have to look at what is happening at UCT as we speak to see what other risk they accept by not aligning with us and giving students access to off-campus student accommodation.”

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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