Katie Bailey, MCAS '19, a political science major with an economics minor, has always been one to challenge traditional ways of thinking and to accomplish her goals by different means. Her innovative mindset inspires her inventive and adventurous ambitions. With these qualities, as well as an appreciation for travel, Bailey knew that her semester-long stay in Granada this upcoming fall would not solely be limited to the country of Spain. In the midst of planning for her semester abroad, she made sure to organize weekend trips to various other countries in order to satisfy her craving for adventure.
“In order for me to accomplish this, I knew I would have to plan ahead to make sure I went to the best places and knew the best things to do,” Bailey explains. “I looked [on the internet] to see if there was a resource that would plan my weekend itineraries for me to save me the time of planning, and there weren’t any.”
Thus, the absence of this type of resource for study abroad students sparked Bailey's initial motivation for her startup last fall. She had seen the flyer for the Shea Entrepreneurship Program, Accelerate@Shea, and saw it as an opportunity for a prospective startup. That Thanksgiving, she developed the idea of Unifly and applied to the Accelerate@Shea Program.
Bailey's primary intention for creating Unifly was to present students with the opportunity to connect with the greatest resource in study abroad travel—other students. The startup serves as a student travel network to connect students who are studying abroad with other students who have already studied abroad. Bailey describes Unifly as a secure networking platform that will help undergraduate college students travel more effectively by learning how other students have optimized their time abroad and what they recommend from their experiences. The goal of the startup is that students will have a more enriching and immersive experience abroad with Unifly as a resource to personally engage them with the past travels of others.
Applying to Accelerate@Shea consisted of a written application and a startup pitch-styled interview that included questions about Bailey's business model and market competitors. As mentioned previously, she developed the idea for Unifly over Thanksgiving break and was able to consider the aspects of Unifly during her time at home.
“My family helped me a lot with process,” Bailey continues. “They talked with me and helped me understand what I was looking to accomplish with Unifly and how to present Unifly in a way that highlighted its potential.”
After submitting her written application and preparing for her interview, Bailey sought out friends and professors in the Carroll School of Management for their entrepreneurial advice and recommendations on how to be successful in the interview. Simply applying to the program provided Bailey with basic knowledge of an entrepreneurial preparation process.
Following her acceptance into the Accelerate@Shea program, Bailey knew she would need a team to further develop her initial startup design. Collaborating with her current roommate, Molly McFadden, CSOM '19, turned out to be a perfect fit, since both of them are well experienced and passionate about traveling. In addition to Bailey's time spent in Europe, McFadden clearly also exemplifies an enthusiasm for international excursions, having previously spent a semester abroad in Barcelona and most recently traveling to Peru this past summer to volunteer.
“Upon sharing the idea with Molly, she loved it and said there was definitely a need for it,” Bailey says. “This made me feel validated that someone who had actually studied abroad before felt there was a need for Unifly.”
Beginning at the end of January, the Accelerate@Shea program spans six weeks and provides teams with the opportunity to interact with a network of mentors through workshops, events, and office hour sessions. The program assists student startups with the space and funding they need in order to develop their business. The purpose of Accelerate@Shea is to unify Boston College’s startup community and foster collaboration with other student entrepreneurs. Sixteen teams were accepted into this year’s program. Each team received a certain amount of funding to fuel their proposals. In addition to the variety of speakers that motivated the teams to take advantage of several aspects within the program, the office hour sessions provided insight on a more individual level.
The Accelerate@Shea program closes with an event called “Demo Day” on Thursday, March 2. Bailey explained that this event was the equivalent of a ‘science fair’ for startups. Each team will have its own table and the event will be open to professors, parents, students, and anyone who finds themselves interested in entrepreneurship endeavors. It allows students to present what they have accomplished, where they currently stand, and what they hope to obtain in the future.
“I wouldn’t say that this program sits you down and walks you through what to do. Everyone is in different stages; I’m still in the early phases of my startup, while there are others who already have revenue coming in,” Bailey explains. “The way they approach this program is by bringing in mentors and speakers that give you helpful advice through talks and meetings where you can pull what you need from it. At the end of the day, you have to be able to put the pieces together.”
McFadden and Bailey plan to start Unifly as an online website resource and eventually convert it to a mobile phone app in order to maximize its efficiency. No specific launch date has been determined, as the two are working tirelessly to optimize the startup’s potential. However, they have begun to gain a following on their Instagram page, @unifly_travel, and have sent out a few surveys to get feedback from those who are studying abroad and are interested in a network like Unifly to be able to determine the desire for such a resource.
Both Bailey and McFadden believe that students, both within and beyond BC, will benefit from the efficiency of Unifly. Once developed, students will be able to log their location, budget, dates of travel, and interests, and Unifly will generate a few options of cities or itineraries that match those interests to choose from. The aim is that this platform will help travelers seize every opportunity and maximize their international experiences.
Bailey explains that, “Providing options with things to do will be more beneficial than picking an option out of ignorance of the other.” Unifly also promises to be extremely secure; itineraries can be selectively shared with family and friends, making both students and parents more comfortable with the idea of travel or studying abroad. Unifly is unique in the fact that it is exclusive to undergraduate college students. McFadden and Bailey describe it as a "college society for traveling."
Bailey makes sure to articulate how grateful she is for the opportunity Boston College has given her to pursue interests that she hasn’t before, since it's political science majors aren't often associated with entrepreneurship and startups.
“This was so different from what I’ve done before, but it’s cool that BC allowed me the room and space to do it, and assisted me with the funding,” she says. “I really encourage other students to do that because it’s easy to fall into a path or a track or be caught up with not finding what you are passionate about. Sometimes it’s weird to branch out from what you are used to doing, but there are so many different careers that people pursue. I sought this out strictly because I thought it would be fun and now I think I could see myself doing this after college.”
Accelerate@Shea is mostly run by contributions of BC alumni. A majority of the speakers have previously graduated from BC, built up their careers, and have come back to advise students who are in the same position they once were in years before. They go out of their way to offer prospective entrepreneurs insight and resources.
“The alumni are so compassionate about helping fellow eagles and really exemplify the Jesuit aspect of helping others,” Bailey concludes. “I have really appreciated BC for helping me with that kind of support and camaraderie.”