Entrepreneur’s anti-bullying app helps half a million kids
An entrepreneur who endured years of bullying has used his experience to help half a million children and young people.
Michael Brennan, now 28, suffered at the hands of bullies for years at primary and secondary schools in Essex and it continued even when his family moved to the North East.
“It started off with verbal and physical abuse,” the entrepreneur told BusinessCloud. “When I moved to a secondary school in Berwick-upon-Tweed, in Northumberland, that’s where the online problems were caused.
“It was at the start of the explosion of social media, when platforms like Facebook were becoming popular.”
Anti-bullying helplines eased his problems but didn’t fix them, as they couldn’t feed the information back to schools – a problem he has now fixed through Tootoot.
The platform allows students in schools, colleges and universities to anonymously report incidents of bullying and cyber-bullying and make it easier for schools to manage and deal with. It also helps them to speak up about issues including mental health and racism.
“If schools and parents are looking at ways to prevent bullying and cyber bullying, it’s important that young people are encouraged to speak up – and in particular have safe avenues to report,” said CEO Brennan, who founded the business with CTO Kieran Innes in 2015.
“We need to use and embrace technology because that’s what young people are using and where the issues such as cyber bullying are coming from.”
A thousand schools have used Tootoot’s various anti-bullying programmes, while 500 are currently using its software. Brennan says 280,000 children and young people are currently active and registered on the software.
In June last year the firm, which has raised around £1 million in funding to date, moved its headquarters from Berwick-upon-Tweed to the MSP tech incubator in Manchester, although it retains sales bases in the North East and Scotland. It made sense to move HQ, says Brennan, because there are 3,000 schools in North West and that is where its investment is based.
Former Great Britain rugby league player Terry Flanagan is its chairman while Tangerine PR and The Juice Academy founder Sandy Lindsay and AO.com non-executive director Chris Hopkinson are among the investors.
Huddersfield Town is one of two Premier League clubs already using a sports version of the app, along with lower-division clubs Rochdale and Blackpool and organisations in other sports.
“As long as people are interacting together, there will be challenges of culture; of boundaries for bullying and banter; and the more serious concerns of reporting safeguarding issues such as child abuse, radicalisation and extremism,” Brennan continued.
“The problem isn’t going to go away. When we introduce our platforms and apps to a school or a sports club, we explain that they are setting themselves up for the future, the next 5-10 years, as opposed to putting a quick fix in for six months and saying ‘we’ve changed the culture’.
“Ultimately it’s going to take a number of years, in sport in particular, to change that culture from the awful problems that have been occurring inside some clubs.”
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The firm has seen 45,000 concerns reported across education and sport in the last 24 months, despite the latter app only being live for the last ten. One in ten young people registered on the app have used it for that purpose.
Brennan is looking to raise between a further £750,000 and £1m in the next three months to further develop Tootoot’s app for the workplace. As well as speaking to current shareholders, he is targeting larger backers, such as private equity houses and angel investors, to support international growth.
“We’ve secured our first nine pilot customers for ‘workplace’ – two of them are enterprise organisations with 5,000 employees or more,” said Brennan. “The other seven are smaller, with 250 employees. It’s been a great start.
“If you think of the sexual harassment problems in some of the larger organisations that have recently been highlighted, a lot of it comes from individuals not feeling confident or having a way to speak up or around the people causing the problems.
“I do see these problems becoming worse. We have the ensure people have the avenues to speak up.”